Santorum Eyes Iowa

by Katelynd Mahoney

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was the keynote speaker at a GOP luncheon in Linn County, Iowa, this afternoon. The visit — Santorum’s sixth to the state this year — is stoking buzz about the senator’s interest in a 2012 presidential bid.

“The folks in Iowa are great,” Santorum says in an interview with National Review Online. “As the first-in-the-nation caucus state, politics are a part of their lives. Like those in New Hampshire, Iowans take their role seriously.”

“If I were to get into this, I would certainly not be one of the favorites, so doing well out of the box would be much more important to me than to some of the more well-known candidates,” Santorum says, explaining his busy itinerary. “That’s a consideration that I have to factor in. If we decide to go forward, then Iowa becomes a very important place to be.”

Santorum, who has been a Fox News contributor since 2007, credits the network for helping to keep him a part of the national political conversation. “That’s been big,” he says. “It has helped folks remember who I am. . . . It’s a great platform, being able to talk about the current issues of the day.” But punditry has its pitfalls. “Sometimes you’re on there, and you have to talk about issues you’d rather dodge,” he chuckles. “Maybe it’s about something somebody in your party said that you disagree with, or sometimes you can come off like a political analyst instead of as someone with an ideas agenda. It has its pluses and minuses.”

Santorum can also be found on radio, where he guest-hosts on Bill Bennett’s program. His presence on the airwaves, he notes, is carried in northwest Iowa, Omaha, and western Iowa. I mention that Ronald Reagan broadcast his radio show in Iowa as he prepared for his 1980 run. “Sure, he was on WHO,” Santorum says. “When I’m in Des Moines, I do their station every now and then.”


Even in this media-driven age, Santorum knows, pressing the flesh still matters. “I remember my speech professor back in college, he told us that 90 percent of communication is non-verbal. People don’t get to know you by what you write. They get to really know who you are by seeing you, talking with you, and looking at your expressions — seeing if you look them in the eye and whether you seem to care about what you say. They ask: Does he have conviction about what he’s saying?”

Santorum acknowledges that economic issues are at the top of voters’ list of concerns this year, but he is not shying away from his social conservatism. “I think that there is certainly a bloc of voters who understand that these moral and cultural issues are important,” he says. “In Iowa, the marriage issue is front and center, as are the justices who are up for retention. These issues are probably more salient here than in other states where they are not on the ballot.”

Expect more trips to the Hawkeye State in coming months. “I just like being out there and having folks pay attention to what I’m saying,” Santorum laughs. “When you go to Iowa, everybody notices and reports on what you’re saying and why you’re saying it. That’s a wonderful gift.”

— Katelynd Mahoney is a senior at the Catholic University of America and a National Review intern in Washington. Robert Costa contributed to this report.

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