Hoping to recapture the magic of his 2012 Iowa Caucus win, Rick Santorum crisscrossed the state in the days following Steve King’s Freedom Summit in Des Moines. From Sioux City to Davenport, the former Pennsylvania Senator dropped in at some of his old haunts to rekindle an interest in another presidential run. Yet even as he sported a Reagan Library jacket on his Monday swing, he encouraged Republicans to move on from the messaging themes of the Reagan years.

It’s a new tactic for Santorum this time around. Figuring he’s already sold himself as the culture warrior candidate on gay marriage and abortion, he’s now pushing a “blue collar conservatism” message. “We need to be the party of the worker. Why? Well because it’s good politics,” Santorum bluntly stated at the King event on Saturday. “What percentage of American workers own their own business? Less than ten. So when we go out, as we have for many years, and talk about entrepreneurs and businesses we’re talking to ten percent of the public, and then we wonder why we don’t win!”

Rick Santorum Freedom Summit
Santorum speaks at Steve King’s Freedom Summit

The speech did not go over well with the right-wing crowd. Santorum’s performance drew some of the least applause of the day, though large stretches of it were just plain boring on its own accord. However, Santorum got back into his groove once he hit the road. Tirelessly hitting small town after small town crowd was how he won in 2012, and appears to be his strategy for victory once more.

On Monday he stumped at the Java Lounge in Williamsburg, Iowa, a frequent stop during his 2012 campaign. In front of a crowd of about 20 locals, several of which he knew well from last time, Santorum was well-received and spoke on a larger range of topics.

He connected best with the audience on two hot conservative topics. Asked about ISIS, Santorum warned that America has “not taken the threat seriously on a couple fronts.” He criticized President Obama’s word choices, arguing his oft-made point that “terrorism is a tactic, it’s not an ideology.” He would prefer the term “radical Islam” was used more often. Asked about gay marriage, he called courts allowing the practice “tyranny,” and said, “Judicial activism is a serious problem in this country.”

Rick Santorum Williamsburg
Santorum speaks to locals in a Williamsburg, IA coffee shop

On health care policy, Santorum said that the coming U.S. Supreme Court decision may “require a reworking of Obamacare … substantial changes will be put in.” He added colorfully that, “There are plenty of opportunities to remake the system that makes sense instead of trying to make a frog with wings fly better.”

Santorum also wasn’t afraid to get into the weeds on several issues, delving in to detailed specifics on the gas tax and interstate commerce laws. The crowd appeared to stay with him on some of the minutia (this is Iowa, after all). He also focused a lot on vocational education and Common Core. “The key to education success in America is not to tinker with programs,” Santorum said. Of course, not two minutes later he suggested schools create a customized education system for every single child that aligns with their parents’ views, which sort of sounded like an awfully large tinker.

Overall, Santorum seemed comfortable and in his element talking to a small group of Iowa Caucus-goers. The only major off-key moment was when a high school senior asked him about her worry of going to college later this year and being burdened with student loan debt. Rather than encourage her or suggest scholarships, Santorum went on a meandering tangent about how many students may not want to go to college anymore, how the government shouldn’t be over-promising students on debt relief, and how he personally wished he had taken a few years between high school and college to “find himself.” Most politicians try to empathize more, and Santorum’s policy wonkiness may have gotten in the way of better connecting with the young woman.

Santorum’s day ended in Des Moines, but not before stopping by popular South Side restaurant Tumea and Sons for a low-key dinner. Starting Line’s South Side informants recount a nice scene where Santorum chatted with many of the patrons about his Italian heritage. That included Des Moines State Senator Tony Bisignano, who talked with him about raising the minimum wage. One South Sider approached Santorum to speak to him in Italian. Santorum responded in kind, with Starting Line’s contacts reporting his Italian was molto bene.

 

by Pat Rynard
Posted 1/29/2015

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