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Politics

Rick Santorum Unveils His Florida Campaign Team

January 12, 2012 - 6:00pm

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who was only eight votes away from defeating former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts to win the Iowa caucus, unveiled his campaign team for Florida on Friday. The Florida primary will be held on Jan. 31, 10 days after South Carolina Republicans hold their own primary.

Santorums team in the Sunshine State will be chaired by Florida Republican operative and businessman Jesse Biter, president and CEO of Biter Enterprises. Biter also helped out on Mike Huckabees presidential campaign in 2008 and Rick Scotts gubernatorial bid in 2010.

Santorum tabbed Michael Phillips, who worked for Pat Buchanans and George W. Bushs presidential bids, to be his director in Florida. Phillips was very active with businessman Herman Cains bid for the Republican nomination. Cain, who won the Presidency 5 straw poll in Orlando in September, rocketed to the top of the national polls before bowing out of the race after a series of gaffes and accusations of marital impropriety. Phillips was the architect of Cains national call team and served as his chief of staff in Florida.

"I am thrilled to announce this great team of Floridians who have joined the fight for conservatism and a restoration of our founding principles, Santorum said in a statement on Friday. Through Jesse and Michael's leadership, I have no doubt that this talented team will successfully get our hopeful and positive message of a better America out to all Floridians. I look forward to working with them as we build the operation for our team to win the Florida primary."

First Coast GOP operative Becky Reichenberg will be deputy director for Santorum in the Sunshine State. Reichenberg currently leads theSt. Johns Federated Republican Women Club. Manatee County businessman Craig Bachler, who also worked for Scott and Buchanan in the past, will handle grassroots and field operations for Santorum. Hillsborough County GOP activist Ken Johnson, another veteran of the Scott campaign, will be an at-large manager for Santorum. Another Hillsborough County Republican, Steve Feiler, will handle tea party movement outreach for Santorum.

Santorum also named regional directors on Friday. Leon County Republican leader Chip Collette, who was an elections lawyer for George W. Bush and John McCain, will lead Santorums campaign in the northwest part of the state including the Panhandle. Palm Beach Republican Starla Brown, who has helped conservatives ranging from Allen West to Mike McCalister, will handle Southeast Florida for Santorum. Former congressional candidate Tom Garcia will focus on the central part of the state while tea party activist Jamie Cain will lead Santorums campaign in Southwest Florida. Manatee County conservative activist James Ferguson will handle West Florida for Santorum while businessman Rick Hartley will lead the campaign in the northeast part of the state. Hillsborough County Republican Frank Shearrow will manage the Tampa Bay area while conservative activist Rev. Bryan Longworth will lead the Treasure Coast for Santorum.

Santorum has risen in national and state polls following his strong showing in the Iowa caucus, but he remains behind in the polls in Florida. A poll from Rasmussen Reports released on Thursday found Santorum in third place in Florida with 15 percent -- behind Romney who led with 41 percent and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who placed second with 19 percent. Santorum has shown some strength in the Sunshine State, taking fourth in the Republican Party of Floridas Presidency 5 straw poll in Orlando back in September.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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