Last month I talked about the fact that the next GOP presidential race was going to get off to a particularly early start with a candidate forum scheduled to take place in Iowa next month. When that news came out, I was speculating on who might be the first ones to bite at the apple. Some of the big, “inevitable” names would probably like to keep their powder dry for a while longer, but will likely be pulled into the event – assuming they can even get an invitation – if some of the other notable names show up on the list. Among those who I thought would be first to jump was Rick Santorum, and if the latest reports out of his office are true, he’s not going to disappoint.

Rick Santorum won primaries and caucuses in 11 states in 2012, coming in a respectable second in the GOP presidential primary season. And Republicans have a history of bestowing their nomination on the next guy in line, usually an also-ran from the last contest.

Yet the former senator from Pennsylvania is rarely mentioned in the already feverish pre-game 2016 chatter among the political commentariat and the donor class.

That’s just the way he likes it. Or so he says.

“America loves an underdog. We’re definitely the underdog in this race,” he said in an interview Tuesday. Santorum added that being underestimated — again — “has given me a lot of latitude.”

His iconic sweater vests will likely make a return appearance. But Santorum 2.0 will be a very different presidential campaign than the one that came from almost nowhere to win the Iowa caucuses in an overtime decision, he vows.

“I get the game,” Santorum said.

Santorum never really stopped running after losing out to Mitt in 2012. He’s kept his hand in the game at every opportunity and shows up on the cable news gab festivals regularly. He’s still wildly popular in social conservative circles and he has a compelling personal story which a great many Americans can relate to and admire. But even for all of that, he still faces some of the same problems he did last time around.

Rick has undoubtedly improved his national name recognition from four years ago, largely by virtue of his second place finish. But to evaluate this honestly, he finished second pretty much by doggedly refusing to drop out after the rest of the pack threw in the towel. He has a strong base of support in Pennsylvania, but we’ll need to see some early polling numbers to find out how much the 2016 electorate remembers (and likes) him from last time. He also has experienced fundraising challenges in the past. If it weren’t for Foster Friess in 2012, Santorum might have wound up taking public transit to the final debates.

Further, that healthy support from so-cons has previously shown that it can be a double edged sword. It’s hard to find an article about Santorum which doesn’t use the phrase culture warrior. Not only in the general election, but to a certain extent in the primary, the former Senator has to test the limits of exactly how far to the Right you can go on issues like abortion and “the gay stuff” before the voters begin tuning out the rest of your platform and focusing on nothing but that.

All in all, though, having previous experience in a national campaign is something you can’t get anywhere else and can not be discounted. And Santorum has a national network of volunteers in place well ahead of time, as well as a history of handshakes with a lot of donors. I would rate his chances in 2016 significantly higher than they were four years ago and would absolutely not count him out.