Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann Contrast Both Experience and Campaign Style

Dec 21, 2011 3:04am

BETTENDORF, Iowa—Both Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann made appearances at a Christmas party fundraiser for a congressional candidate on Tuesday evening, and despite similar platforms and a similar electorate they are hoping to persuade in these final two weeks, the contrast between the two could not have been starker.

Santorum mingled and lingered, relishing the time with likely caucus goers. He spoke for almost 30 minutes and took questions from the audience for another twenty. Upon leaving he stood in the driveway with his daughter and two staffers for a few minutes before they got in their car to leave.

Bachmann was at the end of the small street in her bus, but the two candidates never crossed paths. By the time Bachmann’s campaign bus drove up the street with Christmas music playing there would be no run-in, or even a holiday greeting between the rivals. The hosts waited outside Bachmann’s bus to greet her for several minutes until she bounded off the bus and into the party with four of her five biological children in tow. She was immediately enveloped into the crowd who gave her a warm welcome.

The Minnesota congresswoman is currently on a whirlwind bus tour that will take her to all 99 counties in the Hawkeye State. Santorum completed the feat last month, but Bachmann is aiming to accomplish it in ten days, lending to a schedule that at times only allows 15 minutes or less at each stop.

Both Santorum and Bachmann were greeted enthusiastically and their speeches had similar themes, but there was a notable difference. Bachmann ran in and addressed the party for 12 minutes before dashing out again. She did shake hands with the partygoers, but it was impossible to ignore the rushed feeling of her visit, especially in contrast to Santorum, who spoke right before her and spent time both before and after shaking hands, taking pictures, and chatting.

And that’s not where the contrasts stopped. Both candidates have been hitting upward, aiming their fire at frontrunners Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and even Ron Paul in recent days, but tonight they contrasted with each other, each making the case why they should be the victor January 3.

Rick Santorum, who received a standing ovation from the crowd at the end of his speech, said that it’s just about a difference of experience — although he said Bachmann is a “good person” and a “good conservative.”

“I think people are looking for someone with more experience, someone with a track record of success, someone who can deliver a key state and has a track record of attracting the kind of votes where they can win,” Santorum told reporters after his speech. “I can tell you after four years of being in the minority in the House I wasn’t ready to be president. I mean it’s great to be there, but it’s not the kind of breadth of experience in Washington that gives you what you need to be able to take on the job as president. ”

Santorum is the only GOP candidate yet to experience a boomlet, but he is gaining momentum and picking up important state endorsements now just two weeks out from the caucuses. Tuesday morning he received one of the most coveted endorsements in the state, from Christian conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats. Bachmann explained not being chosen by Vander Plaats by stating that “clearly there is a diversion of opinion across Iowa evangelicals.”

At the endorsement, Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley, another conservative leader who also threw his support behind Santorum, said they wished the social conservative candidates in the race would coalesce around one candidate. However, it’s clear Bachman is not going anywhere. Throughout her bus tour she’s been greeted by enthusiastic crowds, and she’s hoping retail politics — even if it is rushed — will pay off in two weeks. Tuesday evening, she contrasted herself with the former Pennsylvania senator for one of the first times.

“I have a very strong record across a broad plethora of issues, whether it’s dealing with national security, no one in this race has more current experience on national security because I currently sit on the House intelligence committee. We deal with the nation’s classified secrets,” Bachman said before mentioning she gave birth to five children and raised 23 foster children as another contrast.

At that point her aide tried to move her along, but she interrupted saying, “I’m not finished,” making it clear she wanted the contrast between herself and Santorum made.

“It’s important to recognize that I’ve won four elections in the last five years. Sen. Santorum lost his senate race by a wider margin than any sitting Republican senator in history, and so when it comes to  ability of getting elected … I win on that score as well,” Bachmann told reporters before adding that she is a stronger supporter of “right to work” legislation.

Bachmann then dug in, bringing up a mark on Santorum’s record that is one of the biggest problems for socially conservative voters in this state: “Plus his support of pro-abortion Sen. Arlen Spector.” Santorum supported Spector over the more conservative Pat Toomey in their 2004 senate primary, aiding Spector’s victory.

Bachmann then got back on her bus and left, but the contrast between the two was made.

Up until this evening, Santorum and Bachmann have rarely engaged each other, but today after Vander Plaats’ endorsement, the former Pennsylvania senator’s Coalitions Director Jamie Johnson made it known their candidate was barnstorming the state first.

“I hope they manage to get places on time. I know a lot of their schedules are pretty tight and pretty packed, Johnson said, referring to Bachmann. One particular candidate seems to arrive 90 minutes late and spend five to 10 minutes a stop. We have usually scheduled at least an hour, sometimes an hour and a half to each city stop to give voters there as much time as possible.”

The voters who came to the fundraiser to support congressional candidate John Archer, who wants to unseat Democrat U.S. Rep Dave Loebsack, were warm to both contenders but noticed the time Santorum took with the crowd.

Michael Limberg is a small business owner in the Quad Cities and is still undecided on who he’s going to caucus for in two weeks. He praised both candidates for coming out, but said he “appreciated the amount of time Rick Santorum was able to spend here,” adding that Santorum “wasn’t in as much of a rush to get through the evening as Michele was.”

“You do want to engage them one on one because you do want to ask those questions that are important to you and I know her schedule is tight as they all are, but I do wish more time were allotted for the discussion after the speech she gave,” Limberg said.

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