Woody Allen once said that “80 percent of life is showing up.”
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum sure believes it. He was the only potential Republican presidential candidate to accept the South Carolina GOP’s invitation to appear at its annual Silver Elephant fund raising dinner Friday, one day after the first debate of the 2012 primary campaign.
The diligence paid off: Santorum crushed the opposition in a straw poll of dinner attendees. He took 150 of 408 votes cast, or 37 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the runner-up in the 2008 GOP primaries, was a distant second with 15 percent (61 votes).
(updated) "America was founded great," Santorum said Monday on Fox News' Glenn Beck Show, reprising the message he carried to the South Carolina activists. He was blasting President Obama's recent declaration in a speech that the U.S. "wouldn't be great" without Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment insurance.
In the straw poll, businessman Herman Cain was third, with 44 votes. Donald Trump got 29, while Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – who says he will not run – each won 22 votes. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich received 16 votes, the same as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas got eight votes; former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had seven. Sarah Palin got six votes from the dinner, while former Ambassador to China John Huntsman got four.
Much more important than the soon-to-be-forgotten straw poll, of course, was the exclusive chance Santorum had to make his pitch to hundreds of activists and donors in South Carolina, an important early primary state. He also had the undivided attention of Gov. Nikki Haley, Sen. Lyndsey Graham and other party leaders.
At the dinner, Graham chided Republicans who skipped Thursday’s debate and did not spend time in South Carolina.
“You get a pass this time but you sure as hell better come next time,” Graham said.