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By Andrew Rafferty

Rick Santorum won’t be riding through Iowa in the “Chuck Truck” this time around.

Chuck Laudner, who drove Santorum around the state in a Dodge Ram pickup truck that became iconic of Santorum’s blue collar campaign in 2012, went to work for Donald Trump earlier this year. And he isn’t the only one in the Hawkeye State who has moved on from the 2012 caucus winner.

If Santorum is going to score a repeat victory in the opening round of the presidential race, he’s going to have to do it without the team that crafted the strategy behind his upset caucus win four years ago.

None of Santorum’s 2012 Iowa staff are currently working for the forthcoming campaign. Two of the three main architects of his successful caucus game plan -- Deputy Campaign Manager Jill Latham Ryan and Nick Ryan, who ran the pro-Santorum super PAC -- are now working for Mike Huckabee. The other, former Iowa State Director Cody Brown, is running a consulting firm in Austin, Texas.

"He’s got a group telling him, ‘You got to run. We’ll get the band back together.’ Guess what? There is no band."

“He’s lost the backbone of his 2012 caucus campaign in the sense that he lost some really key supporters,” said one campaign operative who worked closely with the Santorum campaign four years ago.

His tireless campaigning, well organized grassroots effort, and a weak field of competitors allowed Santorum to solidify his role as the alternative to Mitt Romney in the 2012 GOP primaries. But the surprise success he achieved in his last run would not have happened without Iowa, a condition that will likely hold true the second time around.

And it’s not just the behind the scenes consultants who won’t be with him again. Matt Schultz, the former Iowa Secretary of State and the only statewide elected official to endorse Santorum in 2012, is now chairing Ted Cruz’s Iowa effort. Before the Duggars scandal became public, the reality television family’s decisions to back Huckabee despite their previous support for Santorum was also seen as a blow.

“He’s got a group telling him, ‘You got to run. We’ll get the band back together.’ Guess what? There is no band,” said one Iowa Republican operative who supported Santorum but is now backing a rival campaign.

Aides to Santorum admit they have lost some key staff they hoped would build on their surprise success in last cycle’s primaries, but maintain their efforts in Iowa are exponentially ahead of where they were four years ago at this time. The campaign will introduce the Iowa team soon after Santorum enters the race, and advisers say both the size and experience of the staff will cause their competitors to take notice.

“Are there some folks we would have loved to have back? Yeah, there are,” said Santorum spokesman Matt Beynon. “As with every campaign some people move on, but in some cases there are folks we didn’t want back.”

The field is much larger than it was four years ago and recent polling shows Santorum near the bottom in the state he has nearly become a second resident of since 2011. A number of other Republicans like Huckabee, Cruz and likely candidate Scott Walker will cut into Santorum’s support among Iowa’s important evangelical voters. With his base splintered, he is expected to focus more on middle class economics than the social issues that defined his previous run.

“Conservatives have a much broader and capable slate of candidates this cycle than they did in 2012,” said Brown, who led Santorum’s Iowa effort last cycle and is now informally advising the campaign. “There are a number of candidates who, if they’re able to replicate that type of ground game that Santorum built last cycle, I think they could win the caucuses.”

Republicans in Iowa say the difficult path for Santorum, along with the financial benefits other better funded campaigns can offer, have all played a factor in luring staff away. But Santorum aides also counter that they had more choices in staffing this time around because of past success.

His team also say they have retained something just as important as staff -- activists. Ahead of the last Iowa caucuses, the Santorum campaign recruited 800 “caucus captains,” supporters who help rally other caucus goers to back their candidate. It’s a key role to have filled on caucus day, especially in years like 2012 when many Iowans were undecided up until caucus day.

Of those 800, Beynon said 300 have already indicated they will support the former senator in 2016.

On top of that, Santorum supporters say, the candidate has not lost his work ethic. He toured all of Iowa’s 99 counties by early November in 2011, well ahead of any other candidate. By caucus day in January, he was just a few counties short of having done it twice.

He has already been to 23 counties since the beginning of this year.

“He is lightyears ahead of where he was four years ago. He has folks in all 99 counties committed to him,” said Beynon.

And Santorum has retained two of the most influential people involved in his last run -- senior strategist John Brabender and billionaire Foster Friess, who bankrolled his super PAC.

It’s why many Republicans in Iowa, even those who previously supported Santorum but have moved on, aren’t willing to rule him out.

“I know Rick, he’s just persistent,” said a former supporter. “He’s the tortoise. There are lots of hares running around.”