Don't look now, but that Rick Santorum, visitor of all 99 counties and the most Huckabee-est of all the Republican candidates, is threatening to grab a caucus night surprise.
I often hear he has some sort of "Google problem." But really, it depends on how you search.
If you search "Santorum Iowa," you'll swiftly find that the former Pennsylvania senator has pulled into the Iowa top three according to a series of polls, including the hallowed DM Register "Iowa Poll," and is the "hot" candidate in the final frantic hours before Tuesday evening's caucuses.
Rick Santorum is so hot right now, you'd think he was the cure to something. When pollsters for the Des Moines Register started contacting Republican voters on Tuesday, Santorum was at 10 percent. By Friday when the polling ended, he was at 22 percent, tied for the lead. If they'd kept calling Saturday, voters might have answered the phone singing the senator's name.
When the days were averaged out, which pollsters do to smooth out anomalies, the findings put Romney at 24 percent, Ron Paul at 22 percent, and Santorum at 15 percent. Given the trend, it's possible Santorum could win the caucus on Tuesday, which would be a perfect ending to a volatile race.
The question in Iowa right now is: Are Iowa Republicans finally waking to the wonders of the two-term Ssenator, or is Santorum simply the latest candidate who is not Mitt Romney?
Well, apparently while the rest of us were Googling, Santorum was living here, off the land, holding dozens of events and putting together a good old fashioned caucus organization. And here I thought the quaint notion of "campaigning" by talking with "voters" and making a "personal connection" was so over.
Santorum finished fourth, yes, fourth, in the Poll of Straw, and yet, he failed to be sensible like that Tim Pawlenty and courageously drop out. Clearly, the race was over, locked and loaded. The road signs were clear. No volatility ahead. (Any candidate who spends more than $50 to provide cold hot dogs and warm lemonade at the next straw poll is automatically disqualified.)
It's a remarkable political rebirth.
Because if you Google "Casey defeats Santorum," you'll find lots of stuff detailing Santorum's 59-41 landslide defeat by Bob Casey Jr. in the 2006 senate election. Just five shot years ago.
Sure, it was a Democratic wave election, back when the Iraq War was a huge national issue and President Bush was dragging the GOP into the political wilderness. Still, that's quite a drubbing.
So what happened? From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Elected to Congress in an improbable 1990 upset in the Pittsburgh suburbs, Mr. Santorum captured his Senate seat in the GOP's 1994 tsunami and rose to the third ranking position in the chamber's Republican caucus. As a force in national politics and a leader in the state's GOP, he became one of the most influential politicians Pennsylvania has produced in decades.
But his national ascent as pillar of the conservative wing of his party was accompanied by growing estrangement from voters who had given him a narrow victory over Sen. Harris Wofford in the Republican landslide of 1994, and a comfortable re-election victory in 2000.
Mr. Santorum had won the intense allegiance among many social and religious conservatives with his leadership in congressional fights against abortion and gay marriage. But those stands brought opposition as well, as did his prominent role in bringing congressional intervention in the Florida litigation over Terri Schiavo, and his support for conservative champions of the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to the theory of evolution.
Mr. Santorum's most prominent legislative accomplishment in his first Senate term came through his leading role in the enactment of landmark welfare reform. In his second term, however, Mr. Santorum, a career-long advocate of Social Security revisions, became wedded to the president's unsuccessful effort to introduce private accounts as part of the system.
He reinforced elements of his controversial image with the publication of his book, "It Takes a Family," a critique of aspects of American culture that he said were at war with the preservation of the family. While his targets in the outspoken book included his own party at times, it stirred intense ire for passages that seemed to question the choices of some working women.
The exit polling from that race is interesting stuff. Santorum lost the independent vote by a whopping 72-28 and women voted for Casey 61-39.
But those same polls show the makings of a perfect Iowa Republican caucuses candidate.
He won among born-again/evangelical Christians 59-41 and 55-45 among white protestants. Among a subset of white evangelicals, he cleaned up 71-29. Folks who go to church weekly picked Santorum 53-47. Although the Catholic senator lost 59-41 among Catholics polled.
The exit poll showed Santorum winning in Pennsylvania's rural votes 53-47.
Running a campaign to capture largely rural, white, evangelical voters is no way to win a Senate seat in Pennsylvania. But it is a great recipe for a strong caucus showing.
How did he get so popular with these folks? Well, for one thing, he is strongly opposed to civil rights for gays and lesbians. In 2003, he drew fire for saying, "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything."
Stuff like that caused his original "Google problem."
Santorum earned a 100 percent voting record from the National Right to Life Committee. He favors a constitutional amendment banning Same-Sex marriage. Google "Santorum separation of church and state," and you'll find that he believes it's a radical, damaging concept:
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, who appears likely to enter the race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, said in Massachusetts Tuesday that he is "frankly appalled'' that John F. Kennedy supported the separation of church and state when he was a presidential candidate in 1960.
Kennedy, who had been facing questions because of his Catholic faith, said at the time, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.''
Santorum, a fellow Catholic, cast that statement as "radical," the Boston Globe reports, adding that it did "great damage."
"We're seeing how Catholic politicians, following the first Catholic president, have followed his lead, and have divorced faith not just from the public square, but from their own decision-making process,'' said Santorum.
He essentially blamed Boston's liberalism for sparking sexual abuse in the Catholic church. Yep.
Another curious nugget comes from Googling "Santorum National Weather Service."
In 2005, Santorum sponsored a bill that would have prohibited the NWS from providing any information free to the public that is also being provided by private companies. Basically, Santorum wanted to stop the weather service from providing public forecasts so that private firms, such as Pennsylvania-based Accuweather, (Surprise) could take the government's weather data and sell it for a profit.
Hoping to advance his cause, he even tried to argue the NWS didn't issue sufficient warnings for Hurricane Katrina. It didn't help, and the bill stalled.
And for all the lousy stands Santorum takes on social issues, his real electoral weakness beyond Iowa is probably that his public life was spent serving in Congress, doing business in ways that have contributed to the legislative branch's current 11 percent approval rating. Such as, oh, I don't know, favoring a home-state business/campaign contributor over allowing the weather service we pay for to tell us if it might rain.
By the way, it's expected to breezy and cold Tuesday with highs in the 20s, according to the weather service.
Here's a column I wrote in August about a Santorum stop in Cedar Rapids, back before he was all that:
So the “Values Voters Bus Tour” parked in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday morning. And the first two local folks who showed up did indeed have family values on their mind.
Still, I doubt they’d be welcome on the bus.
“I’m standing up for my daughter and for what I believe in,” said Alice McCabe of Cedar Rapids, who came with her husband, David Kesler. They quietly held signs with pictures of their daughter Sarah, her wife, Liz, and their 2-year-old son, Milo. Sarah and Liz were legally married in Iowa two years ago. “That’s the American way, isn’t it?” McCabe said.
Republican candidate for president Rick Santorum, who spoke at the lightly attended bus stop, says `nope.'
“Uh, we have an institution of marriage which is reflective of what’s in nature, one man, one woman,” said the former Pennsylvania senator when I asked why Sarah and Liz don’t count as a family. “(Same-sex marriage) is not what reflects nature.”
Birds do it, bees do it, so let’s do it, let’s deny civil rights. Kesler, a retired biologist, is not convinced.
“Natural law, to a biologist, is what works,” Kesler said. “People who love each other will make a strong marriage.”
If you won’t buy biology, how about economics? Santorum says couples like Sarah and Liz are part of the reason the national economy is falling down around our ears. They’re demanding “special rights” in the “pursuit of pleasure.” And it’s these “moral failings” that are the problem, from Wall Street banksters to the Iowa Supreme Court and its “unelected judges” who had the audacity to let Sarah and Liz get hitched.
And these are not just some tortured leaps of logic to justify the continued righteous drumbeat on social issues even as the nation yearns for leaders who can offer actual economic policies. “All the statistical analysis,” Santorum said, shows he’s right. He did not cite all the specific studies. Or any, actually.
Looking at a photo of Sarah and Liz, sitting beside the Christmas tree holding Milo, it’s tough to believe they are to blame for our economic woes. Is this the scene that Standard & Poor’s was thinking of when it downgraded the nation’s bond rating and put more coal in our stockings?
The couple lives in Minneapolis. When they’re not demanding special rights and pursuing pleasures, Sarah is a sign language interpreter and Liz is an elementary schoolteacher.I don’t know. I guess the problem could be families like this one. Or it could be out-of-touch politicians who would rather pile scorn on their fellow Americans than offer any real solutions to real problems facing the country. Tough one.