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August 1st, 2011
 

Santorum’s Small Town Strategy

Oskaloosa is one of those small Iowa towns that should be on every presidential candidate’s calendar in the final weeks before the Ames Straw Poll.  Despite a population of less than 12,000, this south-central Iowa town is a gold mine for GOP campaigns.  Oskaloosa serves as the seat of Mahaska County, which has become one of the most conservative counties in the state.

Bob Vander Plaats earned twice as many votes as the more moderate Terry Branstad in Mahaska County during the 2010 gubernatorial primary.  Then, Branstad more than doubled Democrat incumbent Chet Culver’s Mahaska County vote total in the general election.  Rick Santorum has used Oskaloosa as his home base for the past week during a barnstorming tour of the state.

Santorum met with 50 activists who sweated out the 91 degree temperatures in an Oskaloosa park shelter Sunday afternoon.  It was the 90th campaign event he has held in Iowa, which far outdistances the rest of the field.  Santorum’s speech and Q&A session were among the most well-rounded any candidate has provided so far during this cycle.

He was on top of his game and won over some of the attendees in the process.  Santorum was interrupted 12 separate times for applause, which is quite an accomplishment for a candidate who openly admits he does not deliver applause lines.

“I like the fact that he’s got conviction in what he stands for and believes in,” said attendee Curt Block.  “He believes in less government, letting the states take care of the education system and getting the federal government out of the way.  I was very impressed.”  Block was leaning toward voting for Michele Bachmann in the Ames Straw Poll before Sunday’s event.  He now favors Santorum.

Santorum kept the event casual.  Showing up in shorts and sandals, the former Pennsylvania senator was accompanied by his wife and several of their children.  The Santorums brought fresh cookies and pie for the attendees.  As the family listened patiently, Santorum covered topics ranging from the debt ceiling, life, jobs, taxes, his electoral history and ethanol.  He also fired several stinging criticisms of President Obama.

“We have a person in the White House who believes American isn’t about freedom and opportunity, it’s about power,” Santorum said.  “That’s what ObamaCare is all about.”  Santorum later added that the president’s federal health care plan “robs us of our freedom”.

During the Q&A session, Santorum was asked about one of the most controversial parts of his record.  In 2004, Santorum campaigned for fellow Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter over his more conservative primary opponent Pat Toomey.  The issue remains a black mark on Santorum’s otherwise very conservative resume.

Santorum explained that the decision was made in order to insure the confirmation of conservative judges to the Supreme Court.  Arlen Specter was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and guaranteed he would vote in favor of President George W. Bush’s nominees.

“I thought that we could get two, if not three, conservative justices on the court for the next 30 years,” Santorum responded.  “That was more important than having a senator nominated, who was more conservative, in a tough election year and potentially lose the seat.  I made the decision, based on not politics, not GOP, but based on the substance of what was best for the country.”

Santorum added that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito would not have been confirmed by the Senate without Arlen Specter’s help.  “You can call Alito and ask him,” Santorum said. “Arlen Specter defended and batted down every attack on Alito before it got any traction and he got confirmed as one of the most conservative justices we’ve ever confirmed.  And as a result, we’re winning 5-4 decisions that you approve of.”

Santorum also told the crowd that he was the only presidential candidate who came to Iowa to campaign for the ouster of three Iowa Supreme Court justices last November.  Mahaska County voted overwhelmingly in favor of removing the judges.

“He had good, solid answers through everything, but with a central theme of giving the power back to the people,” said attendee Jason Alons, the principal of Oskaloosa Christian School.  Alons asked Santorum about education and was extremely impressed with the former U.S. Senator’s answer.  Alons was leaning toward supporting Ron Paul.  Santorum is now his favorite.

Rick Santorum is campaigning harder than any other candidate.  He has to.  Santorum has raised little money, receives little media attention, and his poll numbers remain low.  However, candidates fare well in the Ames Straw Poll by organizing on the ground and convincing voters, face-to-face, to support them.  He has two more weeks to win over Iowans.  If he can woo voters the way he did in Oskaloosa Sunday, Rick Santorum might surprise some people on August 13th.

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About the Author

Kevin Hall
Kevin Hall brings almost two decades of journalistic experience to TheIowaRepublican. Starting in college as a radio broadcaster, Hall eventually became a television anchor/reporter for stations in North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa. During the 2007 caucus cycle, Hall changed careers and joined the political realm. He was the northwest Iowa field director for Fred Thompson's presidential campaign. Hall helped Terry Branstad return to the governor's office by organizing southwest Iowa for Branstad's 2010 campaign. Hall serves as a reporter/columnist for TheIowaRepublican.com.




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