Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania was the first candidate to address the straw poll crowd inside the Hilton Coliseum at Iowa State University Saturday, entering to the skirl of bagpipes (nice Braveheart touch) and accompanied by a column of sign-waving supporters.
He took the stage with his wife, Karen, and five of their children, who spent the past three weeks touring Iowa with him.
“How many people here got calls from one of my kids?” Santorum said, and a fair number of the crowd applauded.
Santorum is competing in the Iowa straw poll, a state party fundraiser/political festival/circus/test of campaign strength. He has been lagging behind candidates with more star wattage and money in some polls, but is counting on doing better than expected in the straw poll to keep his presidential campaign going.
“Today is an opportunity to strike a blow for the heartland,” Santorum said. “This nation is in jeopardy of losing its freedom…We have come here to say that the folks in Washington, in the boardrooms of New York and the media centers…are not going to choose the next president. You are going to choose the next president.”
Santorum has been fighting for attention, his name not included in some polls, overshadowed by Rep. Michelle Bachmann, “dream” GOP candidates who have flirted with running and even former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who is about as low in the polls as Santorum.
“This has been a campaign about scratching for every bit of recognition we can get,” Santorum said. “This is the little-engine-that-could campaign.”