Rick Santorum Parking Lot

Rick Santorum Parking Lot

Rick Santorum Parking Lot

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 22 2012 12:52 PM

Rick Santorum Parking Lot

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Pity the people who showed up on time for Rick Santorum. The frontrunner-of-sorts scheduled a pre-debate event in this city, a speech at a Tucson Tea Party rally at a Shriners club. The Republican candidates vying to replace the retiring Gabrielle Giffords, would give speeches, starting at 10, and Santorum would speak at 11:30.

But if you didn't show up at 10:30, you were out of luck. Same if you were a reporter. Tea Party officials (marked by their red, branded shirts) aggressively enforced the fire marshall's guidelines, capping the attendance at 450. I entered into negotiations with a "media handler" who held a batch of media badges with one hand, and with the other, pointed toward the door she wanted me to leave through. A Santorum volunteer pleaded with her to cool off.

"There's a reporter from the Wall Street Journal who drove two hours to be here!" she said. "This is about coverage."

"We have more than 30 reporters here," said the Tea Party wrangler. "We're prioritizing citizens."

But dozens of voters were stranded outside, too. This picture doesn't do justice; I took it after people moved out of the way. They stayed for two or three hours, thinking that Santorum might come out and address them with a bullhorn.

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If Santorum lost any votes over this, I couldn't find them. The Santorum backers, ranging from old fans to people who had just marked their absentee ballots, were absolutely committed.

"I think it says something that Trump is backing Romney," said Bill Kershaw, a hobby ancestry researcher who said he'd traced his family roots back to 90 A.D. "He's the candidate of the rich and nobody else."

Steve Johnson, a church youth leader, claimed to be the most faithful Santorum fan in the parking lot. "Check my Facebook timeline," he said. "I started supporting him in 2006."

David Weigel is a reporter for the Washington Post.