Rick Santorum Fails to Get One Endorsement, But He’s Grilled About Another

Dec 26, 2011 9:59pm

ADEL, Iowa — Just over a week before the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum stood next to a coveted endorsement he did not receive while being grilled about one he did nab last week.

The day after Christmas, Santorum went pheasant hunting with Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has yet to back a candidate although Iowans will caucus on Jan. 3. The two held a press conference afterwards, but King did not endorse Santorum or anyone and instead said it was just a hunting trip with a “friend.”

“I came here to shoot pheasants today with my friend Rick Santorum and we are having a great, great day. I’m going to deliberate on all of this and I’ve got a few days yet before a decision has to be made,” King said.

When asked if he was leaning towards the candidate he was standing next to, King joked, “Yes,” before physically leaning toward Santorum, adding he would “prefer to not discuss” a possible endorsement because he wanted to “enjoy the day.”

The two hunted black pheasants and quail, it was the only campaign event of the day and Santorum, dressed in a bright orange vest and matching orange NRA hat, was the only candidate stumping in the state eight days out from the caucuses. Santorum said he nabbed four birds on his own plus some “group kills.” He brought his 18-year-old son John along for his first hunting trip and he was successful as well.

King said he thought he would have backed one of the GOP candidates three months ago, but he still hasn’t made his decision.

“Part of this is the dynamics of the entire race and I’ve said I want my head and my heart to come together. When that happens and if that happens I’ll jump in with both feet and I hope it’s not after the ship’s already left, but it may be,” King said.

King is one of the last important Iowa endorsements left, but Santorum found himself being asked by reporters about another endorsement, that of conservative Christian leader Bob Vander Plaats, who backed the former Pennsylvania senator last week. The endorsement has been mired in controversy since it happened over whether Vander Plaats asked for cash in exchange for his public support.

Less than 48 hours after receiving the backing of Vander Plaats, the head of the prominent evangelical group The Family Leader, Santorum disclosed that the prominent Iowan told him he needed money to make the most out of the endorsement.

ABC News reported last week that Vander Plaats was soliciting as much as $1 million from Santorum and other candidates.

On the deck of Doc’s Hunt Club here, Santorum stood by Vander Plaats’ endorsement saying he was “happy” he received it and he doesn’t “see it as any trouble,” before blaming the firestorm around the endorsement on rival campaigns.

“Obviously some people who didn’t get the endorsement are trying to stir the pot to make it what it isn’t. And it’s an endorsement based on the fact that they looked at the candidates and they looked at the candidate who fit the profile, who had the courage to go out and fight for the issues that conservatives care about,” Santorum said. “I think that’s why Bob Vander Plaats did what he did and that’s why others have stepped forward to do the same.”

The Des Moines Register first reported that Vander Plaats asked for money to “promote the endorsement.” On Monday, Santorum was asked what he would say to people who thought that was an inappropriate conversation. Santorum replied that it was a “factual statement” and Vander Plaats was trying to do more than just issue a press release.

“I didn’t see it as anything other than that. If you want to endorse somebody and you want to make sure your endorsement is out there among the people that follow you as supporters of his. That’s all he was saying to me,” Santorum said. “I didn’t take anything of it and I don’t know what he said to anybody else, but what he said to me was about as benign a statement as, ‘This is what we would do with the endorsement and this is what we want to accomplish.’”

When asked if he second-guessed the endorsement when the conversation turned to money, Santorum said no and instead he was “tickled to death that he would do more than just a press conference,” adding he even received one of Vander Plaats’ robo-calls in support of him on his cell phone.

“Most of the time you get an endorsement that’s all you get is a press conference, and someone who is willing to go out and work to help support you in a more active way is welcome,” Santorum said.

With just days before Iowans begin the voting process, Santorum said he didn’t want to define what winning would be here except to say it means “exceeding expectations.” He said there are three contests being fought in the state simultaneously.

“There’s the libertarian primary, which Ron Paul’s going to win. Then you’ve got the moderate primary, which Gingrich and Romney are scrumming for. And you’ve got three folks who are running as strong conservatives,” Santorum said, referring to himself, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. “I think if we win that primary we are in very good shape.”

He told reporters they weren’t going to eat the pheasants and quail they hunted for dinner, but they would have a pheasant dinner this evening.

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