December 30, 2011
Libertarians, contrarians, and college students appear to love Ron Paul. Pragmatic-minded Republican voters tend to support so-called establishment candidate Mitt Romney. But social conservatives have yet to rally around a single candidate. In Iowa, however, Rick Santorum is gaining both endorsements and support in the polls just as his rivals' campaigns fade.
In a campaign season known for the rapid rise and fall of frontrunners, Santorum may prove to be the proverbial tortoise who is rewarded for a slow and steady race. With more time than money, Santorum has spent years crisscrossing the state, meeting with small groups of voters. He has spent little time or money outside the Hawkeye state with the goal to win the ground war in Iowa and use the victory to propel him into the lead nationally.
In a year when other candidates focused on jobs and the economy, the Santorum campaign focused on family values and social issues. He wrote the book on the importance of families in public policy. His campaign touts his personal life as a father of seven home-schooled children. He worked with Iowans to campaign successfully to remove Iowa State Supreme Court justices who overturned the state's marriage law that prohibited same-sex marriage. He put abortion at the front and center of his campaign. On the check-list of issues social conservatives care about, Santorum scores high.
Conservative leaders have given Santorum the thumbs-up. Glenn Beck compared him to George Washington. The Iowa Family Leader, an effective state organization, declined to endorse any candidates in the race, but its president, Bob Vander Plaats, endorsed Santorum, saying that the Pennsylvanian was at home among Iowan social conservatives.
“I believe Rick Santorum comes from us,” Vander Plaats said. “Not to us. He comes from us. He is one of us.”
Until recently, Santorum has faced two (related) challenges. The first was viability. With little money and national name recognition, it was unlikely he could win the nomination, let alone the general election. Second, there were other social conservatives who were seen as having a greater chance of electoral success.