Santorum completes 99 county tour in Iowa

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WILLIAMSBURG, IA — A fear of seeing the nation micro-managed spurred former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum to launch a whirlwind tour off Iowa's 99 counties to campaign for the Republican nomination for president, draining his bank account and pulling him away from his family.

He completed that tour Wednesday.

"I haven't seen my kids in a week, and I've got seven kids, and it's killing me," Santorum told about 50 people crowded at the Java Lounge coffee shop in Williamsburg, glancing to a table surrounded by young children and their mother. "But I've got to do this for them."

The campaign has also been a financial strain for Santorum, he told reporters Wednesday.

"I don't have much income. We're going through our savings, you know, and I'm not someone who had a lot of money when I came into this," said Santorum, 53, a former lawyer and politician. "You've got to feel like your country's at stake. If that doesn't motivate you, then you shouldn't be doing this."

Santorum explained his tireless grassroots campaign with a criticism of President Obama. Santorum said the president is running the country like a member of nobility, rather than an elected leader.

"The reason that our founders, and most, if not all, of your ancestors came to this country for, was to leave countries like what (Democrats) want to create — which is a top-down, government-run welfare state," Santorum said.

But Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorksy said it's the Republican candidates for president who have it all wrong, not Obama.

"There isn't a clearer example of the difference between the two sides — one that fights for the middle class by rewarding hard work and one that forgets all about them," Dvorsky said.

Despite the enthusiasm on display for Santorum during his 90-minute town hall meeting, only 5 percent of those attending said he would be their first choice for the GOP nomination for president in a recent poll of 400 likely Republican caucusgoers.

Santorum placed seventh of eight GOP candidates in the Des Moines Register poll, conducted Oct. 23-26 by Selzer & Co., a Des Moines-based public opinion polling company, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Only former Utah Gov. Jon Hunstman, who is not competing in Iowa, trailed Santorum in the poll.

"We're at the back of the pack," Santorum acknowledged, when asked by IowaPolitics.com if finishing below top three in the Jan. 3 caucus would be his cue to drop out of the race. Conventional wisdom holds that there are only three tickets out of Iowa on the night of the caucuses.

"We feel like we can win here, but we don't have to win here," Santorum said. "Obviously, if you're sitting in last, you don't have to win to do well here."
Santorum said his campaign remains focused on collecting support from grassroots activists.

Rick David, 62, of North Liberty, put Santorum on the spot, asking him to explain how he would distinguish himself from the other conservatives running.

David, an undecided Republican, said he wants Santorum, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann or retired Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain aggressively to take on Obama for "deliberately trying to destroy the country."

Santorum responded that Obama is "deliberately trying to change the county into something fundamentally different from what our founders intended." David said that answer did not persuade him, though he said it was forceful.

Iowa County Republican Party Chairwoman Alice DeRycke said she believed that the hard work Santorum is putting into campaigning in rural towns would help him with voters.

"Whether you have a strong handshake or not, it really does make a difference," she said.

Santorum is the first presidential candidate of the 2012 cycle to visit Iowa County, De-Rycke said. The eastern Iowa county, just west of Iowa City, is home to 3,651 registered active Republicans, 2,875 registered Democrats and 4,800 independents, according to a Nov. 1 tally by Iowa's secretary of state.

The former Pennsylvania senator was scheduled to complete his goal of visiting all 99 counties on Wednesday evening during a town hall in Maquoketa.

His campaign also announced Wednesday the launch of a "Faith, Family, Freedom Tour."

Santorum's new tour of early nominating states will focus on "returning to traditional American values of faith and family, promoting freedom via economic security and stability, energy independence and securing our nation from international threats," the campaign said in a statement.

Along the way, he plans to make three policy speeches. The first takes place at the candidate's Urbandale headquarters on Friday.

Hannah Hess covers government and politics for IowaPolitics.com, which is owned by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

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