Rick Santorum, One of Us

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 3 2012 5:05 PM

Rick Santorum, One of Us

URBANDALE, Iowa -- Ron Wilson, a retired insurance salesman, got to the Des Moines Christian Assembly early and scored a bleacher seat to see Rick Santorum. In four hours, he'd come back to the same gym. He'd made his decision: He'd vote for Santorum.

"I'm pragmatic," he explained. "Romney will probably win the nomination, but I want Santorum in the race. It should come down to those two." Romney was a fine guy, but other voters -- not him -- would struggle with supporting a Mormon. Santorum would struggle, too. but either candidate could beat Barack Obama.

"If you guys did some digging, you'd realize we don't know anything about Obama," said Wilson. "We don't have his college records; we don't know who he dated in college. I think that birth certificate stuff was pretty stupid, but there are aspects of his career that no has looked at. Look into Jeremiah Wright's church, and Black Liberation Theology. It's a racist church, fundamentally." Contrast all that with Santorum. "He's one of us," said Wilson.

Before Santorum entered the room, a few hundred students from the Des Moines Christian School were ushered in to listen. (Only press, students, and Assembly members were allowed -- this was not a vote-maximizing event.) We were treated to the Star-Spangled Banner sung by the Duggar family, a Missouri-based family of two parents and 19 kids, who had endorsed Santorum and traveled with him. (Their bus, temporarily named the "Santourin' Express, was parked outside.) We looked to the back of the room, and Santorum and his family were there, standing for the song.

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The Santorum clan took their places as the candidate re-introduced himself. "Thanks for inviting us back," he said -- it's exceedingly tough to find a part of Iowa he hasn't visited. He hadn't brought his disabled daughter, Bella, but family members were wearing badges for her, to bring her to Urbandale, in spirit. Santorum turned to the students, and talked about young people.

"As we saw in the last election," he said, "they tend to get wrapped up in celebrity, and not the substance of the race." He was offering substance, and facts that proved that he and his audience had the right values. "Graduate from high school," he said. "Get married. Have children. There's a 2009 study from Brookings which says that f you have done those things, the poverty rate in America is 2 percent. You will not only not be poor, you will do very well in America."
 
Santorum's voice was rising. "Why wouldn't leaders in this country stand up and promote marriage? Stop, in any way they could, the sexual promiscuity that leads to out of wedlock births?" It was obvious. "I love it when the left, and the president says you folks who hold your bibles in your hands, and cling to your guns, are worn. Our values are based on religion, based on the Bible. Their values are based on the religion of self."  The candidate pointed his right arm as if shaming a left-wing debate partner. "You know what's at stake in this election? That value structure. That, right there."

Over in a corner of the room, Ralph Reed watched Santorum intently. He wasn't making an endorsement, he said. That was up to the people in the room, meeting a candidate who was One of Them.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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