The Corner

Santorum Falls Flat with Iowa Evangelicals, Despite 2012 Caucus Win

Rick Santorum was the returning champion at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition forum on Saturday. But inside Waukee, Iowa’s Point of Grace Church, it certainly didn’t feel like it.

After his upset victory in the 2012 Iowa caucus – driven largely by the state’s powerful evangelical voting bloc – many expected the former Pennsylvania senator to be welcomed back with open arms. But compared to the other eight Republican candidates present at the Des Moines-area conference, Santorum’s speech fell strangely flat.

The audience didn’t clap much, and when they did it was usually polite and perfunctory. Lines that felt like they were meant to be showstoppers were at times met with awkward silences.

Part of that may have been due to his choice of subject matter. While speakers like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal emphasized Christian credentials and Rand Paul and Scott Walker pushed muscular foreign policies, Santorum was selling a populist economic message that didn’t seem to land.

He called the Republican Party’s supply-side, free trade message outdated and pushed for a minimum wage hike. “We’re keeping down the wages of American families,” he said. “We need to say we’re on the side of American workers.”

Observers believe Santorum may be misreading his audience this time around. “It didn’t resonate,” said Dennis Goldford, a professor of politics at Des Moines’ Drake University. “Santorum sort of moved to that blue-collar conservatism, populist kind of approach . . . That’s not what will sell this particular crowd.”

But the former senator was trailing heavily in the polls before his come-from-behind win in 2012. Santorum could recapture that magic again – but to do so, he may have to shift his message.

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