Santorum and His 7 Kids Barnstorm Iowa: Will It Help?

By Shush Walshe

Aug 4, 2011 1:26pm

ABC News’ Shushannah Walshe (@shushwalshe) reports:

Rick Santorum is trying to turn around his struggling, long shot campaign and make a surprise showing at the Ames Straw Poll next week. And he’s been bringing his family along for the ride. Part campaign, part family vacation, he’s already hit 60 of Iowa’s 99 counties and will have campaigned in 50 cities in 18 days before he gets to Ames.

Speaking by phone from the road in northwest Iowa, Santorum told ABC News that he’s the “hardest working candidate” in the race and called his campaign “the little engine that could.” He feels that the 50-city blitz, started July 26, is already making a difference.

Santorum, his wife Karen and their seven kids got in a caravan at their home in Penn Hills, Pa., and arrived 16 hours later –making a stop along the way at Notre Dame because everyone in the family is a  college football fan. He knows he’s competing against candidates with vastly more name recognition and cash, but he hopes to surprise the field and surpass Mitt Romney–who’s not participating in the straw poll, but still has Iowa support–or Newt Gingrich.

His campaign has struggled to gain traction in a field of Iowa candidates–and he says he doesn’t have the money for TV and radio ad buys–who are all trying to be the social, fiscal, and tea party conservative that will appeal to Iowa voters. 

“I don’t have the staff or the resources that at least three others and probably four other candidates are putting in this, and you look at [Ron] Paul and [Tim] Pawlenty and [Michele] Bachmann and [Herman] Cain, they have more resources than we do and they are putting more staff on the ground,” Santorum said. “Our sense is if we could track the top five we would be very, very happy.”

The Santorum campaign even released an amusing web video to advertise their two week odyssey:

 

In the last presidential campaign, Mike Huckabee surprised the field by coming in second in Iowa’s straw poll and then winning the caucuses, spending a fraction of what Romney spent.

“The field last time had one player out there spending millions of dollars to win the straw poll. Here you have four who are out there spending millions of dollars,” Santorum said.

Fundraising for the former Pennsylvania senator has been difficult. He raised just $582,000 and had about $230,000 in his campaign bank account at the end of the last quarter. In comparison, Bachmann raised $4.2 million in the second quarter, half of which was transferred from her congressional campaign account. Pawlenty raised $4.2 million in the second quarter while Paul raised $4.5 million dollars.

Despite Bachmann’s headlines, Ron Paul looks to make a surprise showing at Ames.  Santorum criticized both Bachmann and Paul for not being leaders on the debt ceiling debate, specifically targeting Paul and pointing out that while he was in the Senate he was “able to have an impact and influence major pieces of legislation.”

“I mean if you can’t lead the Congress, how are you going to lead the country?” Santorum asked. “I understand how difficult it is to get things done in Washington and to be a leader in Washington, but that’s what they are running for. Particularly in Ron Paul’s case, Ron Paul has been in Congress, gosh, for a long, long time, and I’m not too sure he can point to anything where he has provided a leadership role that got something conservative done.”

Santorum is far from the first candidate to bring his family along for the Iowa ride. In 2007, Connecticut senator Chris Dodd actually moved his family to the Hawkeye state, even enrolling his two young children in public schools. Santorum hasn’t gone that far and not all seven kids go to every event, but he says they “understand the mission.”

Three-year-old  Bella suffers from Trisomy 18, a rare genetic disorder that is fatal before birth in 90 percent of cases.  His other children are with him, though, with usually one or two helping him out on his campaign trips in different parts of the state while the others are at the Des Moines headquarters stuffing envelopes with mom  Karen, adding some much needed campaign staff. His children—who range from age 3 to 20—have spent time on an Iowa farm, have hit the parade circuit and stopped off at the John Wayne museum in Winterset.

He says it’s not as hectic as you might imagine –  but that’s when they are all together. He says logistics get “challenging” when the family is in different parts of the state.  His kids enjoy politics—at least the older ones. Twenty-year-old Elizabeth is studying political science in college and 18-year-old John–who is out campaigning with his dad on his current trip is considering deferring college for a year to help on the trail.

All will have roles at the straw poll, with one or two handing out 40 jars of homemade peach jam that Santorum and his wife made before leaving Pennsylvania.

Santorum says his wife is “totally committed to making this a success,” but the decision for him to wage the  underdog campaign was not something she wanted but “felt this was something that we were called to do.”  Santorum and his family are strict, practicing Catholics.

“We have a responsibility for our children, to our country to do this and she’s engaged in the process, but is this her first choice?  No,” Santorum said.

Santorum hasn’t been able to escape his habit of controversial statements as he drives around Iowa. This week he caused a small firestorm when he said early childhood programs were “indoctrinating” the nation’s youth.  In the interview he said it wasn’t just those programs, but that students are “not being taught real history” and instead are being taught a “politically correct version.”

“There is no question what we see going on in public schools is influenced by state and increasingly federal ideas of what education should be, and I’ve fought against that,” Santorum said. “Our children do worse in history than any other subject. That tells you that something is going on where they are not learning the truth about what America is all about. You can call that indoctrination, you can call it ineptitude, but the bottom line is schools are not doing for children what is necessary for them to be successful as Americans and we need to change the system.”

Santorum’s own children were or will be home schooled through the eighth grade.

The candidate also went after his own party on their role in the debt ceiling debate. Santorum opposed the final legislation and although Republicans are widely thought to have made out better in the deal he thinks they made some serious mistakes in the negotiations. Specifically, congressional Republicans should have pushed harder for a balanced budget amendment.

“We could have made that case to the American public in a way that I think would have been persuasive, but we had a very jumbled message, very mixed strategy and missed an opportunity to accomplish something that I think would have been a real good for the country,” Santorum said.

He was pleased with the Gallup poll that came this week that showed him within two points of President Obama in his home state, saying it shows he can do well in the “key states that are going to be necessary to win this election.”

“The last time I ran in Pennsylvania they spent about $40 million beating my brains in,” Santorum said. “Barack Obama can’t hit me with any punch in Pennsylvania that I haven’t already been hit with 20 times already.”

But first, he needs to get to the general election. Next stop: Ames, Iowa.

 

 

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