Rick Santorum had a layover last night in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, having taken the cheapest flight available from Iowa to Washington, D.C. "That's the kind of campaign we're running," said the former Pennsylvania senator, who will fly back to Iowa tomorrow. He was scheduled to speak this morning at a forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition, an event being held at the Ronald Reagan Building, the address of which is 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue. Santorum knows that his hope of making it to the White House three blocks away depends almost entirely on the voters of the Hawkeye State. Santorum will be campaigning practically non-stop in Iowa in the four weeks leading up to the Jan. 3 precinct caucuses. But of course, he's been campaigning there nearly non-stop all year.
Santorum is the only candidate in the GOP 2012 field who has visited all 99 counties in Iowa, where he has already held more than 250 events this year, and yesterday ended a three-day swing through the western part of the state that was his most successful tour so far. Last week he was endorsed by one of Iowa's most influential evangelical leaders, Pastor Cary Gordon of Cornerstone World Outreach in Sioux City, who predicted at a Monday event with Santorum: "This man is just about to blow the doors off the caucus."
That bold prophecy of a political miracle -- at a time when polls show Santorum currently near the back of the Republican pack -- is not merely a matter of faith, because Gordon is the kind of man who can make a major difference in a state where Christian conservatives are a key factor in GOP politics. Gordon led a successful effort last year to defeat the re-election of three state supreme court justices who "voted to impose same-sex marriage on the people of Iowa," as Santorum said in our brief telephone interview last night.
Gordon "stood tall and stood firm and gained a lot of respect in the pro-family community for what he did," Santorum said, pointing out that the Sioux City minister recorded a 19-minute online video making the case for his candidate of choice. "Lay your fears aside. Put the polling data aside… and vote principles," Gordon declared in the video. Because of his record of standing up for Christian values, the evangelical leader's endorsement sent "a very strong signal to pastors that we were the right choice among the conservatives who are vying for the nomination in Iowa," Santorum said, describing Gordon as "someone who's going to be actively engaged and involved in helping recruit more people to the team."
People of faith sometimes see signs and omens where secular minds see mere coincidence, which could spark a spirited debate over the significance of an interesting fact: On the same day the Santorum campaign announced Gordon's endorsement, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin spontaneously offered praise for Santorum on national television. In a Thursday appearance on Sean Hannity's popular Fox News program, Palin was asked if she thought the fight for the Republican nomination had come down to a contest between former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. "No, not yet," answered Palin, the GOP's 2008 vice-presidential candidate, explaining that if voters decide "they want ideological consistency, then they're going to start paying attention to, say, Rick Santorum, who has been consistent on being a hard-liner against Iran, to help protect Israel. He's been consistent on wanting to protect the most vulnerable and the sanctity of life."
Some might dismiss that unsolicited praise from Palin, who remains popular with conservative Tea Party activists, as an entirely random remark. For Santorum, however, her words may have been answered prayer, providing the underdog candidate with the kind of fundraising boost his low-budget campaign needs in the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses.
"Our small dollar donations have just dramatically increased, which is, you know, a great sign for us… and I think Sarah Palin's comments were absolutely critical to that," Santorum said, adding that there has also been a noticeable "spike" in traffic to his campaign website. His supporters have wondered if last week's surprising praise from Palin will prove the prelude to an outright endorsement. Her pattern in previous elections has been to maximize her impact by endorsing candidates at pivotal moments, unleashing an overwhelming flood of contributions and publicity to the chosen campaign.
Santorum wasn't waiting on miracles during his layover in the Dallas airport last night, however, but was focused on doing the hard work of campaigning he's been doing all year. He doesn't expect a sudden surge in the polls, Santorum said, but plans to "scratch and claw and continue to build that grassroots support" he sees as vital to victory in Iowa. "As people look at the candidates and see who's the strongest, most conservative candidate who can take on Obama… someone who's been solid, someone that you can trust, I feel like good common-sense Iowans are going to say, 'You know, Santorum is the guy.' And like I said, I think we're going to surprise folks."
The call came for final boarding on his flight to D.C. for today's event on Pennsylvania Avenue. Santorum will fly back Thursday to Iowa, where voters will decide whether or not it's a one-way trip.