Santorum Barnstorming Iowa | The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Santorum Barnstorming Iowa
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SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Perhaps 50 voters showed up Saturday for a campaign event held in a barn on a dirt road amid cornfields near Roland, about 20 miles north of Ames. While a few dozen voters isn’t much of a crowd by Republican presidential campaign standards, the audience inside the barn was enlarged — and enlivened — by the presence of scores of children, the offspring of several Christian homeschooling families in attendance. One family brought eight kids, another brought nine, and the hosts, Scott and Susan Hurd, have seven of their own, as did the guest from Pennsylvania whose “Road to Ames Barn Bash” was the occasion of this gathering.

Rick Santorum has been campaigning across the state for months and, as he told the voters (and their numerous children) during his speech in the barn, he has visited 51 cities in Iowa by now. Despite his dogged persistence, however, Santorum’s candidacy has yet to strike the kind of sparks that garner major national attention — a problem the former Pennsylvania senator blames on the media. “The national media has done a very good job of ignoring Rick Santorum,” he said, lamenting the fact that polls show him as the only GOP candidate whose name-recognition hasn’t increased in recent months. “Everybody else was being covered and promoted by the national media, even people that are below me in the polls, even people who most people say have no chance of ever getting the nomination.” The reason for this, he explained, is that the liberal media knows he is a conservative who can win and have decided “maybe the best way to get rid of this guy is to simply suffocate him by making sure that nobody talks about him?”

While some will say that sounds paranoid, it is remarkable how little press coverage Santorum’s candidacy has gotten. Perhaps it’s the Tea Party phenomenon, which has lifted up “outsider” candidates like Atlanta businessman Herman Cain. Or maybe it’s the economic situation, which overshadows the kind of social issues that have been the hallmark of Santorum’s conservative career. He hasn’t budged or backed down an inch on those issues.

“There are people in this race who say that if the state of New York or if the state of New Hampshire wants to pass gay marriage, then that’s fine with them,” Santorum told his Iowa audience. “It’s not fine with me.” He likened it to the antebellum debate over slavery — “whether states have the right to do wrong” — and said of same-sex marriage: “If the institution that they’re propagating in these states is wrong and harmful to the family, the states may have the legal right to do it, but as far as I’m concerned, they don’t have the moral right to do it, and we should stand up and fight against what they’re doing.”

This is red-meat stuff for social conservatives, and his listeners applauded Santorum’s stand-up-and-fight declaration. Santorum then addressed another red-meat issue, abortion, saying that “there was no major piece of legislation on pro-life that went through the Senate in 12 years that I didn’t author.” While social conservatism is what Santorum is best known for, as Quin Hillyer has noted (“Santorum’s Clarity of Vision,” May 2), Santorum can also speak with authority about foreign policy. During the question-and-answer session following his barn speech Saturday, Santorum talked at length about President Obama’s shameful support for erstwhile Honduran dictator Manuel Zelaya, an issue that few in his Iowa audience had ever heard about before.

Beyond considerations of policy, however, Santorum is trying to convince Iowa Republicans that he can win: “On the debate stage on Thursday night, if you look at all the people who will have accomplished what needs to be accomplished to win this election, and that’s defeat a Democratic incumbent. No one else on that stage has ever defeated a Democratic incumbent, I’ve defeated three.”

He points out that, at age 36, he won his 1994 Senate race against Harris Wofford, “a guy whose campaign team was James Carville and Paul Begala.” Despite the daunting Democratic registration advantage in Pennsylvania, Santorum edged Wofford by a 90,000-vote margin and thus, as he proudly tells his listeners, earned himself the No. 3 spot on the list of five Republicans that Carville hates the most. This flashback to the Clinton era of the 1990s highlights the depth of experience that Santorum brings to bear as a former two-term senator who’s been out of office nearly five years and yet, at age 53, is still boyishly youthful in appearance. He’s younger than Michele Bachmann (who is 55) and barely two years older than Tim Pawlenty (50), but had already been in the U.S. Senate for eight years when Pawlenty was first elected governor of Minnesota in 2002, at which point Bachmann was still a first-term state senator.

Santorum also points out that in 2000 he was re-elected with 52 percent of the vote in a year when George W. Bush got only 46 percent in Pennsylvania. And then he explains the one blot on his otherwise stainless political career: “I lost in 2006, but frankly, so did every other Republican in Pennsylvania. We lost five congressional districts, we lost the Statehouse by more than we’ve ever lost it in the history of the state, and we lost our governor’s race by 22 points.” But then he mentions a Quinnipiac poll of Pennsylvania which showed President Obama with a 54 percent disapproval rating and says, “Between Barack Obama and me, we’re in a dead heat.” Indeed, that poll in Pennsylvania, a state no Republican presidential candidate has won since 1988, shows Santorum polling nearly as well against Obama as Mitt Romney, who leads the GOP 2012 field in fundraising and name recognition.

Romney, however, is not expected to make a major effort in next February’s Iowa caucuses, which have historically favored social conservatives among Republicans. The upcoming straw poll at Ames is shaping up as a showdown between Bachmann and Pawlenty, the two candidates from neighboring Minnesota. A Tea Party favorite, Bachmann has surged since her strong performance in a June 13 debate in New Hampshire, while Pawlenty — who has struggled to live up to his early promise as a conservative alternative to the more centrist Romney — may see his campaign implode if he doesn’t do well at Ames. And there is an outside possibility that Santorum may figure more prominently in the straw poll’s impact than his low-profile campaign would suggest. In his most recent syndicated column, George F. Will described Santorum as “a favorite of evangelicals,” and said that if Santorum finishes ahead of Pawlenty in Saturday’s straw poll, that result might “destroy” Pawlenty. (The destruction of Pawlenty would be a bad thing, according to George Will — who it must be noted, is also part of the “national media” that Santorum accuses of deliberately ignoring him.)

Santorum was running late Saturday as he left the Hurd family’s barn to continue his journey along the road that leads to Thursday’s debate and next Saturday’s big showdown in Ames. Six events are on his schedule for Monday, and seven more Tuesday. Before he left the barn near Roland, however, he reminded his supporters that anyone who will be 18 years old by Election Day 2012 is eligible to vote in the straw poll — and that would include many of the 16- and 17-year-olds who were among the home-schooled kids in attendance. If enough of them heed Santorum’s suggestion, by next Sunday even the liberal media won’t be able to ignore him anymore.

Robert Stacy McCain
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