Believe It Or Not, Rick Santorum Is Not Ronald Reagan

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 7 2013 10:52 AM

Rick Santorum's Primary Grade Inflation

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Rick Santorum holds up the number of state primaries he actually won.

Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

This is a minor point, but while looking through Rick Santorum's corpus for that last item, I noticed this claim in his last USA Today op-ed.

In spite of being badly outspent, we won 11 states. (Incidentally, the same number as Ronald Reagan won against Gerald Ford in 1976.) How? Much like President Reagan, we resonated with Middle America.
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It says something about Santorum's current low Q-rating that nobody noticed this claim at the time. Even the amateur politics-watcher is probably scratching his head at it. Santorum handily lost the nomination, while Reagan fought President Ford all the way to the convention. How'd he do that with only "11 states"?

Well, he actually did it by winning 23 states in some form or another. Reagan won 11 primaries, starting with North Carolina, continuing through to Texas, Georgia, Indiana, Arkansas, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, South Dakota, and California. He won 12 other states by taking the most votes in their caucuses and conventions. Santorum's skewing the numbers by counting all of his wins against Reagan's primaries, but Santorum mostly racked up wins in caucus states. He only won the binding primaries in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Alabama, and won a non-binding primary in Missouri. Reagan won around 46 percent of the overall primary vote; Santorum won around 20 percent.

Minor, again, but "I won as many states as Reagan" sounds like the sort of thing Republican primary voters will be asked to believe.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.