Is Santorum the GOP’s version of Biden ’08 in NJ?

Although he claims some friends in Iowa, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) by appearances has turned into the GOP version of Joe Biden in New Jersey, where his street cred as a scrappy, blue collar Catholic neighbor translates into zero support early here among power players and key renegades. 

Certainly, the top-down dynamic in the state is different this time, and not just because it’s a different party at Drumthwacket.

Sources say the political minders around Gov. Chris Christie have told lieutenants, county chairs, elected officials and others to keep out of prez politics – a reluctantly observed edict.

Bumped up in the polls post Iowa Straw Poll but still lagging in at best fourth place, Santorum carries clonish Christie qualities that make him arguably irrelevant here as an ex deliberative body duplicate of the governor – but appealing enough in a Christie-less field in Iowa.

The basic features of the same profile that drew Iowa supporters to Christie –a combative, pro-life apparent tough guy unafraid of getting in front of a microphone and stringing together more than the programmed soundbites – have the attention of at least one member of the Iowa GOP’s Draft Christie movement.

“At this point, Senator Santorum would be a guy I would seriously consider other than Christie and (Texas Gov. Rick) Perry,” former Iowa state senator James Kersten told PolitickerNJ.com last night via email following a telephone interview.

One of a seven-man group dedicated to a Christie presidential run, Kersten’s not yet willing to break from the New Jersey governor, however, “I don’t know about the others, but the senator (Santorum) did himself some ‘good’ at the debate before the straw poll. He gained some real traction. I think the others are really keeping their options open like me and we will just have to see what happens!”

Santorum’s running what he calls on his website a dollar-by-dollar grassroots campaign, and if cash cow New Jersey is any indication, there’s a reason he’s going small-bore.

The former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania – who famously crusaded into New Jersey politics in 1997 when he backed incumbent Gov. Christie Todd Whitman over challenger Murray Sabrin in a Republican Primary – like everyone else in the presidential mix – can’t turn some of the obvious rustbelt echoes of his candidacy into New Jersey support let alone money, according to GOP sources.

He’s liked, even liked very much in some pockets of New Jersey – “I think I’m leaning to Rick Santorum,” perennial Republican partier Rhoda Chodosh told PolitickerNJ.com.  “He makes the best sense. I like his integrity. He’s a bright person. He’s not a talking head. He knows the constitution well. He’s not seen as a Tea Party person, which will attract more moderate people.” – but no one’s giving the former senator from western Pennsylvania much additional attention here.

PolitickerNJ.com tapped the Lonegan wing of the party to see if the Tea Party had love left after the competing personalities of Iowa Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Texas Congressman Ron Paul and Perry.

They didn’t.

For her part, former 6th Congressional District candidate Anna Little said she was meeting with Perry out west, but has yet to embrace a presidential pick.

An establishment Republican source from south of 195 said, “Santorum is not going anywhere in South Jersey.”

Sources close to the major party chairs say he has no support.

As for former Gov. Whitman, the establishment Republican who welcomed Santorum into the primary fold to help stare down her Pro Life foes,  “Gov. Whitman has not endorsed Rick Santorum, and she does not expect to do so,” said the former governor’s spokeswoman, Heather Grizzle.

Not for nothing, some pundits are already buzzing about Santorum as a vice presidential candidate depending on who lands the nomination.

Kind of like fellow rustbelt reject Biden ’08.

Of course, to hear the GOP talk about it now, that’s probably provided another pro-life Catholic from the Northeast part of the country – this one with executive experience – doesn’t want the job.

Is Santorum the GOP’s version of Biden ’08 in NJ?