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Santorum’s Conservative Stance in Illinois
He hopes for an upset as the conservative alternative.

Rick Santorum addresses supporters in Arlington Heights, Ill., March 16, 2012.

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Katrina Trinko

Herrin, Illinois — Rick Santorum’s pitch to Illinois Republicans is simple.

“If we’re able to pull off that most improbable of upsets here in Illinois,” he said Saturday night in a high-school gym, standing just below a basketball net, “then we will be on our way [to] nominating a conservative to lead our party, and if we have a conservative that leads our party we will win this election, defeat Barack Obama, and keep freedom alive.”

Santorum, having emerged from last week as the surprise winner in Mississippi and Alabama, is on a roll. But having previously lost Michigan and Ohio to Mitt Romney (albeit by close margins), Santorum is hustling to prove his campaign message — with its emphasis on blue-collar workers and American manufacturing — can resonate with Midwestern voters.

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His campaign, however, brushes aside the idea that they must beat Romney in Illinois. “I don’t think it’s a must-win,” says Mike Biundo, Santorum’s campaign manager. “I don’t think any state right now is a must-win.”

“The goal,” Biundo adds, “is to keep getting delegates and then work these caucuses and state-convention processes and start picking up more delegates than we had when we left the state in the first place.”

And he thinks that Santorum will get a solid number of delegates in Illinois, no matter what.

“From all the indications in the polls, it’s going to be a close race,” Biundo says of Illinois. “The delegate count will be pretty close to parity.”

The game plan for Illinois, Biundo adds, will not differ significantly from the campaign’s strategy in prior states, relying on phone calls and grassroots activism to help get out the vote. And the campaign will “get Rick out as much as possible to as many places as possible, because he’s certainly our best messenger out there, and we do very well when he spends a good amount of time in the state.”

Once again, the Santorum campaign is being significantly outspent, with both Romney’s campaign and his super PAC, Restore Our Future, spending big. In Herrin, Santorum mentions the disparity, but optimistically notes he has won in other states where he lost the ad wars. “It wasn’t any better in Mississippi or Alabama,” Santorum told the hundreds in Herrin, clustered in the gym’s bleachers and standing on the basketball court. “We were badly outspent. They ran negative ads. They said some of the most horrific things in their robocalls.”

Santorum likes to paint himself as the happy campaigner. “I’m not out there talking about how horrible anybody is; I’m just talking about the big issues of the day, and the record that each of us brings to the table,” he remarked.

But his stump speech includes plenty of attacks on Romney. Speaking about how he knows he can win the general election, Santorum cracked, “I’m running against someone who has the same record as Barack Obama, so I’m having a trial run.” Speaking of Romney’s record on climate change, Santorum commented, “If you want to know what Mitt Romney’s going to be, just watch the Weather Channel. When it’s popular to be for climate change, that’s where he’ll be.”

Referring to Obamacare, cap-and-trade, and the 2008 bailouts, Santorum argued that those were “the issues that drove people to the polls in 2010.” But, he added, “here’s the problem: On those three important issues, there is no difference between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.”

In a rally in an airport hangar in Mt. Vernon, Ill., that same day, Santorum took aim at Romney’s economy-focused campaign. “My main opponent here in the state of Illinois says we need a CEO to run the government,” he said. “I’ve never been a CEO, but I have worked on national security, and I think we need a commander-in-chief.”

“We don’t need a CEO,” he continued, “we don’t need a better manager. We don’t need someone to manage the nanny state. We need someone who’s going to get rid of the nanny, and change Washington.”

Santorum is also stressing his blue-collar appeal. Observing that most non-urban counties vote Republican in presidential elections, he criticizes the GOP for not paying enough attention to such voters. “Yet, when you look at the economic plans that Republicans put forward, it’s always about tax breaks for higher-income individuals who live in those blue areas mostly,” Santorum said. “And then we wonder, well, why can’t we appeal to a broad section of America?”

What Republicans need, Santorum continued, is “a tax plan that says we want to put small-town and rural America back to work,” going on to discuss his proposal to eliminate corporate taxes on manufacturing.

In the end, Santorum’s blue-collar pitch didn’t deliver him a win in Michigan or Ohio. And unlike those two states, where some polls shortly before the election showed Santorum in the lead, none of the recent Illinois polls have Santorum ahead. Instead, Romney has led by four to nine points. Further complicating Santorum’s bid, his campaign’s disorganization resulted in him not being able to win delegates in four of the state’s 18 congressional districts.

But on the stump, Santorum talks up the prospect of a surprise win in the Land of Lincoln, pushing his supporters “to do the impossible here in Illinois.”

“One of Mitt Romney’s folks said it would take an act of God for Rick Santorum to get the nomination,” Santorum said. “I don’t know about him, but I believe in acts of God.”

— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.



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