Last Iowa caucus victor says GOP must retool message

25 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

In Iowa, Santorum previews ‘blue collar’ pitch for 2016.

Rick Santorum described his remarks at Saturday’s Iowa Freedom Summit as not a stump speech but “a serious talk to serious people” in which the winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses called on Republicans to re-imagine their party as the party of the working class. “One of my favorite sayings that I know that you hear Republicans say all the time is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’ ” Santorum said. “And that is true, unless your boat has a hole in it.” Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, painted a picture of the country in which 70 percent of Americans lack college degrees. DES MOINES — Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum began the 2012 presidential race here trailing badly in both the polls and the money chase, and ended it with a narrow win in the Republican caucuses.

“It’s the most exciting time in the world!” Joni Scotter exclaimed from her Marion home, just outside of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “I want my Mitt Romney to win. Maybe they’re struggling with family breakdown or drug abuse, he said, but they still want to work hard and better themselves — they just have holes in their boats. Now he’s gearing up for another shot at victory in Iowa with a message that’s once again geared at courting social conservatives, positioning himself as an alternative to the GOP establishment — and appealing to disaffected working class voters.

Santorum, wearing a navy Air Force One jacket from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, worked the lobby at the Marriott hotel here Friday night, passing out copies of his latest book, “Bella’s Gift” — about his daughter who was born with a genetic disorder — and huddling with tea party leaders. At a time when some of Romney’s former top Iowa backers are backing away from the man they once supported, while others are choosing their words very, very carefully about the thought of Romney’s possible third run for the White House? Turning to immigration, Santorum pointed out that the proportion of non-native-born Americans in the population is approaching record highs and said it was depressing Americans’ wages. “We need to stand for an immigration policy that puts Americans and American workers first,” he said. Two caucus victors have never faced off before; Huckabee and Santorum even shared some media handlers in Alice Stewart and Hogan Gidley. (Stewart was staffing Huckabee as he flitted around the summit for interviews.) “They’re like two prizefighters,” joked Representative Steve King this week, before the summit kicked off.

Should Santorum formally get into the 2016 race, he’ll face competition for the support of evangelical and social conservatives that is likely to be significantly more formidable than in 2012. That “woohoo” is the signature line of this septuagenarian super-volunteer, who is well-known in the state for out-calling, out-visiting and out-working activists a third her age. On Saturday afternoon, the two potential opponents spoke back to back at short press conferences–Santorum after his own speech, Huckabee long before his. He will also need to avoid the disorganization that plagued his last campaign if he’s to have any chance of making a serious run at the nomination. “The landscape has changed.

Early on, Santorum got a question about gay marriage, and whether a Supreme Court ruling would elevate the issue in Iowa. “I don’t know how big an issue it’s going to be,” he said. “You just asked me to play political commentator. When it comes to Romney, Scotter, who has gotten to know him personally over the years, doesn’t groan like so many others at the two-time presidential candidate who’s now improbably exploring a third run; instead, her optimism goes into overdrive. “It’s real easy to say he’s had his turn,” she says. “But that says to me … they’re just scared.” Scared wasn’t a word I heard from many other top Romney backers in Iowa.

Santorum, who hails from the Rust Belt region of western Pennsylvania, called himself a “blue-collar conservative” who could address the rising gap between the rich and the poor and compete with center-right heavyweights Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney on that front. And I think the most important thing we can do as a party is to restore the importance of marriage, encouraging marriage from an economic point of view as well as a societal point of view. ” As he gritted his teeth, another reporter chimed in and asked him how he could criticize Iran as a theocracy. “Isn’t this similar to your view on same sex marriage, to allow theology to dictate public policy?” Santorum didn’t blink, launching into a quick rundown of Iranian eschatology, and eventually getting back to the subject of 2016. And it remains to be seen whether he’ll even enter the race and, on top of that, make it all the way to Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, which are still barely more than a year away.

Santorum will be in Iowa until Tuesday for events across the state, going from a “pie and politics” meeting later Saturday in Aurelia to an antiabortion rally in Sioux City on Sunday. Other stops include a moving screening for “One Generation Away,” a documentary produced by EchoLight Studios, where Santorum serves as chief executive officer, and a Tuesday speech before the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

All but Paul will be at King’s event on Saturday, along with Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who is also drawing interest from conservative activists in Iowa and elsewhere. They talked for a bit, then Huckabee found the podium and started answering questions. “Three branches that are all equal means just that,” said Huckabee. “There’s no such thing in the Constitution as judicial supremacy, where the courts make a ruling and it becomes, quote, ‘the law of the land’ by the mere ruling itself. If there’s any doubt, check out the list of out-of-state visitors who have dropped by to visit Iowa since Romney lost the 2012 general election: New Jersey Gov. My question is: By whose authority did that happen?” “Let me just say this about the whole issue of deflated footballs,” said Huckabee. “Even as I stand here and deflate in this heat.

Santorum proudly refused to hire a pollster, often found himself sleeping on friends’ couches to save on cash and relied on supporters to drive him between events held in living rooms and diners. I saw interviews with Dan Marino and Joe Theismann, who know a lot more about football than I do, who know more than most people who are droning on about it, and most said that it didn’t make any difference.” On the night he won Louisiana’s primary, he found himself celebrating with staff in a Green Bay, Wisconsin, bar, watching Ann Romney talk about the results. “If I’m the winner by that big of a margin, why am I not on TV?” he said that night.

The campaign’s delegate-collecting operation was led, in part, by Santorum’s daughter, Elizabeth, then age 20, rather than a seasoned campaign professional. Such technical details aren’t front-and-center before voters, but Romney often won delegates — which ultimately determine the party’s nominee — by default, because Santorum didn’t put forward a full slate of party activists to collect them. In the room for those talks was Rob Bickhart, a former Republican National Committee finance director who is expected to lead the campaign’s fundraising.

Santorum still has the backing of millionaire investor Foster Friess, who backed his effort in 2012 and recently held a gathering in Arizona where Santorum met with other potential donors. Still, Romney, too, has visited the state not too long ago, when he rallied with the GOP’s rising star, Joni Ernst, to help with her victorious U.S. In 2008, he backed Mike Huckabee (who won the caucuses) and, in 2012, he backed Romney (who had been declared the winner for two weeks before the party realized Rick Santorum had actually won). Now, while Brownell says he still likes Romney, he doesn’t see how his party can win the argument that a two-time loser from the past is the best choice: “I don’t know how we can come after Democrats for trotting out an old name like Hillary Clinton, if we go back to Romney.” Steep—that’s Mary Kramer’s word to describe the journey Romney would face trying to re-engage Iowans after his two failed campaigns. “It would be a steep climb … not saying it can’t be done, but my word,” says Kramer, the state’s former senate president and U.S. ambassador to Barbados under President George W. She hasn’t talked to him directly about a 2016 campaign, but she has talked to some of his top strategists—she wouldn’t mention them by name—and says she was very honest with them about her reservations. “They ask me what I think,” she explains, “and I say, ‘Hmm…’” Hmm … because her party’s potential field is so deep, Kramer believes.

Challenges—that is a word Renee Schulte uses when she describes whether Romney can put together a winner campaign. “There are clearly some challenges,” says Schulte, a former state lawmaker from Cedar Rapids who served as one of Romney’s state co-chairs in 2012. (She chuckles that she had a much less glamorous job in Romney’s first campaign in 2008, driver of the press van and occasional “gofer.” “I had to pick up his jacket that he left behind at an event,” she says.)

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