Candidate Profile: The Man in the Sweater Vest — Rick Santorum
Patch will be profiling each of the candidates this week in preparation of Saturday's First in the South Primary.
The man in the sweater vest has taken a ride from relative obscurity to overnight success.
Opponent attack ads have begun targeting GOP presidential nominee hopeful Rick Santorum in the Palmetto State — perhaps legitimizing him as a campaign threat even though Friday polls show him slipping.
In late 2011, Santorum wasn't shy about handing out his personal cell phone number to members of the press. Had a question? Just call. He also personally called members of the press, as seen in this Patch story where he called in response to a tweet.
But the morning after Santorum narrowly lost to frontrunner Mitt Romney in Iowa, his voicemail box was full, and his press manager had his hands full. Sweater vests, nearly synonymous with Santorum on the campaign trail, also became popular.
If those in the media and Republicans nationwide were surprised that this little-engine-that-could made such a big showing in Iowa, Santorum and those attending his events were not.
In South Carolina, he's treated as an honorary son — a man that mirrors everything that voters here claim to desire in a candidate. Socially conservative, big on military interventions and small on taxes.
A visit to his state headquarters in Mount Pleasant shows buzzing volunteers — there are about 150 out of that office alone. Outside of Fox News' undecided voters forum Saturday in downtown Charleston, only Santorum volunteers greeted audience members after they left the building.
Many voters and volunteers swayed by Santorum first cite his "family values."
"Faith is a big deal for me," self-described values voter Steve Parsons of James Island said.
What national press Santorum did get prior to Iowa was his talk on assassinating foreign scientists. And before that, he was known as a man with a "Google problem" — the symptom of his anti-gay stances that lead to changing the definition of his last name by civil rights activists.
As a Pennsylvania politician, Santorum has served two terms in both the U.S. Senate and the House. His last term was in 2007 — ending a 16-year career at the Capitol after losing a reelection campaign. Afterward he worked as a contributor to Fox News and as an attorney.
He began campaigning to become the GOP presidential nominee in early 2011 — even hitting early primary states like South Carolina in late 2010. According to the campaign, Santorum has visited the state more and attended more events than any other candidate.
He used the same strategy in Iowa. And while not every event boasted hundreds — and many boasting a meager 15 or 50 people — the strategy brought him within eight votes of Romney, who considerably outspent Santorum's shoe-string budget.
In South Carolina, he's touring in a Dodge truck, not a bus. It's the same truck he used to tour in Iowa, owned by friend named Chuck. Santorum calls the truck the Chuck Truck.
But with what the campaign deems a "win" in Iowa, the money has flowed into the coffers. According to Santorum, he's raise more than $3 million in a week.
Like most GOP politicians, Santorum blames the media for not focusing on his campaign sooner and that reflected in the polls. The Santorum Surge was there all along, it just wasn't in the national dialog, the campaign said.
Santorum's obscurity on the campaign trail certainly didn't stem from not having enough to say. Even campaign staff make jokes about the long-winded Santorum who will talk policy at length. His wife Karen recently ushered him off the stage at a Daniel Island event when the former senator kept taking questions and kept giving lengthy answers. From the point of view of the press, it can be hard to compress his points down into usable soundbites.
But if he did have one soundbite this would be it: the economy goes hand-in-hand with deep moral issues in the nation.
"You can't have limited government unless you have people who follow virtues," Santorum said.
Embracing his identity as the social conservative candidate — seemingly settled when more than 150 evangelical conservative leaders dubbed him their candidate of choice — the Catholic Santorum told audiences that you can't fix the economy, the debt or any other federal government issue without also fixing the morality problems in America.
And fixing morality comes with having more children and more marriages, Santorum said.
"We've got a big mission to do and it's not just fixing the economy," Santorum said. "I understand how faith plus family equals freedom."
Like all of the other GOP candidates in the field, Santorum has gone after incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama — but not by saying the president is an idiot or a know-nothing. Santorum tells audiences that the president is destroying the country "on purpose."
"It's demeaning to the president to say that he's in over his head … These are things he seriously wants to accomplish. He has a very different view of America," Santorum said.
That view is summed up as a "leftist" or socialist agenda, perverse to the American ideal.
Santorum has also gone after Romney, but not like former Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who have focused on the former governor and businessman's capitalist ways. Santorum focuses on Romney's record as governor, with changes in social conservative positions, and equates him to a John McCain-type nominee who will certainly lose to Obama.
"How many people are excited about a moderate?" Santorum asked. "We need to have our side energized."
And moderates don't energize the conservative base or even Reagan Democrats.
"Lots of moderates, who may not agree with me on all the issues but want the change that is necessary … they're going to sign on because they don't like what's happening with the current president," Santorum said.
Here are some other talking points of the Santorum campaign:
- Make national defense the No. 1 priority of the federal government. Santorum would increase defense spending.
- Create a balanced budget amendment. Santorum suggested keeping the debt to 18 percent of gross domestic product.
- Increase high school graduates by reforming education. He wants to see trade-like schools alternatives to traditional school programs. Santorum would end No Child Left Behind, an act he voted for while serving as a legislator.
- Revise the tax code for two rates, 10 and 28 percent. Santorum said "If it was good enough for Ronald Reagan, it's good enough for me." The code would have five deductions, including the tripled child tax deduction.