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Santorum Woos the Working Class
His Ohio campaign has highlighted a glaring Romney weakness.


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Robert Costa

Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio — Rick Santorum came here on Monday night, to a packed town center on the banks of the Cuyahoga River, not merely to stump and shake a few hands, but to plead. “It’s gut-check time,” he told the crowd of several hundred. “Who wants it the most? What do you say?”

The audience roared.

“All of the party chieftains have lined up behind the next guy in line with the most money,” Santorum told them, and he scolded Republican grandees for ignoring a “guy from a little steel town” in southwestern Pennsylvania.

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That raw populism drew sympathetic nods, especially from a group of middle-aged industrial workers, many of whom are struggling to find work in northeastern Ohio, a former manufacturing powerhouse.

“We relate,” Santorum said, looking at a burly man in a Cleveland Browns sweatshirt. “Pittsburgh and Cleveland are sister cities.”

Santorum paused and he lowered his voice. He dropped the talk about Mitt Romney, his chief rival, and shelved the barbs about President Obama. He spoke wistfully about the “neighborhoods we grew up in,” where families — not the government — were central. “The sense of community, the importance of family and faith,” all of these things, Santorum said, had lifted America in years past.

If elected, he pledged, he would promote those values in the White House. “That’s the environment that built the strong backbone of America,” Santorum said. “I believe in this area. I believe that the better days are not behind us.”

The passage summed up Santorum’s case to Ohio Republicans, and to all Republicans who are voting today. Santorum casts himself as a blue-collar warrior, a rock-ribbed conservative. To win in November, he tells Rust Belt underdogs, support one of your own.

And to a point, Santorum’s argument resonates. Romney’s campaign is ruthlessly efficient, but a tad bloodless. Earlier Monday, the former Massachusetts governor held a town hall in Youngstown, Ohio, that was lit better than a Hollywood film set. The crowd there — smaller and carefully arranged in rows of folding chairs — lacked the passion of Santorum’s rally.

But that may not matter much when the results are announced tonight. Romney may clinch Ohio, according to the latest polls.



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