Nobody can say that Rick Santorum doesn’t want it. Fire in the belly? Heck, the former Republican senator from Pennsylvania has practically jumped up and down and set himself on fire.
He relocated his family to Iowa, bundling wife Karen and their seven children into a pair of minivans for the duration. The family Santorum arrived July 26 and are in the middle of a 50-town tour of the state, leading up to Saturday’s Ames Straw Poll, a test of organizing strength for GOP presidential candidates that is part hoe-down, part picnic, part religious revival, part town meeting – and all crazy (in a good way, if you love politics).
Though he has campaigned more in Iowa than any other candidate – beginning way back in the fall of 2009 with an exploratory trip to West Des Moines and Dubuque – Santorum has gained little traction in the polls. He needs to surprise some people on Saturday, to get some momentum and begin competing with the shining celebrity Rep. Michelle Bachmann, and candidates like Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, who are more boring than Bachmann but better funded than Santorum.
The Santorum children, who range in age from 3 to 20, have appeared in parades, gone four-wheeling, hung out on an Iowa farm, and stopped at the John Wayne museum in Winterset, among other things. By the time it is all over Saturday, the family will have traveled through 50 cities and towns.
“You just sort of wonder why is the national media not talking about me when they’re talking about people like Jon Huntsman who are way below me in the national polls, yet he gets press every single day,” Santorum said during a Friday meeting with the Des Moines Register editorial board. “Nobody seems to want to pay any attention to me.”
As Santorum said, his name recognition has not risen between March and July, according to the Gallup Poll. Huntsman, a former Utah governor and President Obama’s ambassador to China, registers 1 to 2 percent in most national polls, and, unlike the socially conservative Santorum, has no natural base in the GOP.
Santorum has also kept up his knack for controversial rhetoric, including recent statements that preschool programs serve to “indoctrinate” children into the politically correct, big government view of the world.
To help close the deal in Ames, the Santorum campaign announced today that it will serve Iowa pork burgers to supporters for lunch, as well as peach jam that his children made from 600 peaches they picked from the family orchard.
For entertainment, there’ll be a dance party featuring Buddy Holly’s band, the Crickets, and Jay Perry Richardson, known as “the Big Bopper Jr.” They are popular acts in Iowa.
Holly, the original Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens performed their last concert in Clear Lake, Iowa, and were killed there in a plane crash during a blizzard in the early morning of Feb. 3. 1959.
It was “the day the music died,” in Don McClean’s classic American Pie.
Santorum, of course, hopes that his presidential aspirations don’t crash and burn.
[The Big Tent will be pitched in Iowa starting Wednesday, where I’ll be covering Thursday night’s Iowa GOP/Fox News televised debate and the straw poll.]