Santorum tells supporters to ‘reset’ presidential race

Former GOP senator campaigns in Colorado
The Colorado Statesman

A feisty Rick Santorum challenged Colorado Republicans to “reset this race” by backing his presidential candidacy at next week’s precinct caucuses during a stop Wednesday in Lakewood as he barnstormed the battleground state.

At a mid-morning appearance at Colorado Christian University, the former Pennsylvania senator portrayed himself as the viable conservative alternative to GOP front-runners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, just hours after Florida voters handed him a distant third-place finish in that state’s presidential primary.

“Do what you think is right, not what the pundits say you need to do,” Santorum told a group of about 100 supporters, mostly students at the conservative school.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum poses for snapshots with Colorado Christian University students during a campaign stop at the school in Lakewood on Feb. 1.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

It was the same argument made by former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, who appeared along with Santorum and heartily endorsed his former congressional colleague.

“The media would have you think that the race is essentially over. Untrue,” said Tancredo, who ran for president in 2008 on a platform focused on immigration policy and waged a third-party bid for governor in 2010. “This race has just begun.”

Tancredo praised Santorum as “something other” than what he terms a “composite candidate,” a politician who tailors answers to different audiences. “I believe in all my heart that what we have here is the real thing,” he said.

After turning in a razor-thin win in the Iowa caucuses, Santorum has trailed front-runners Romney and Gingrich by wide margins in subsequent contests. The night before he toured Colorado’s Front Range, Santorum placed third with 13 percent of the vote in Florida, ahead of Texas Congressman Ron Paul’s 7 percent total, but far behind Romney’s 46 percent and Gingrich’s 32 percent.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum greets supporters on the way into a rally and press conference at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood on Feb. 1. Behind him is state Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, one of several prominent Colorado politicians who endorsed Santorum in advance of the Feb. 7 GOP caucuses in the state.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Colorado Republicans will conduct a presidential straw poll on caucus night Tuesday, the same night as the Minnesota GOP caucus. It’s one of the earliest contests in a topsy-turvy nominating process that Romney hopes to wrap up quickly but that the other candidates say will last at least until June, with Gingrich, Santorum and Paul all pledging to stay in the race through the primaries.

“We’re going to work state by state by state,” he said, noting that his campaign plans to spend time in all the caucus states and not simply run up the delegate total on crowded primary days such as Super Tuesday, a month after Colorado’s caucus. “You show them different here in Colorado. You stand up here and you change this race,” he told the crowd.

Depicting himself as the best, most reliably conservative alternative to Romney, Santorum argued that neither Romney nor Gingrich would be able to vanquish Obama in November.

Former Senate President John Andrews welcomes Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum to Colorado Christian University on Feb. 1 in Lakewood. Andrews heads the CCU-affiliated Centennial Institute and also announced that former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, applauding, was on hand to endorse Santorum.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Santorum said Republicans are backing Gingrich “not because they necessarily think he’s the best candidate,” but because they think the former speaker can keep Romney from winning the nomination. “One of us may be able to beat Mitt Romney, but that’s not the goal, folks. The goal is to beat Barack Obama,” Santorum said to cheers from the crowd.

He slammed Romney’s perceived advantages in fundraising and organization.

“Guess what,” Santorum said. “In the fall, he won’t have the most money, and he won’t have the best organization. I don’t care how much money he raises, he won’t have as much as Obama, because Obama — all he’s doing is saving it. And (Romney) won’t have the mainstream media on his side helping him out like it is in this race. So understand — money and organization is not going to win this election. It’s ideas and character and principles and somebody the American public can relate to, who is going to do the job they’ve promised they would do.”

Republican Ellen Korthuis, who drove in from the small town of Roggen to see Santorum, agreed that GOP voters needed to keep their principles foremost.

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo endorses Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum as former state Rep. Frank DeFilippo, R-Golden, looks on during a Santorum campaign event on Feb. 1 at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood. “What we have here is the real thing,” Tancredo said.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“I like him because he supports the values we hold dear,” she told The Colorado Statesman before Santorum spoke. “Whether they’re on the national scale, family scale, foreign policy scale — he supports what we believe.”

After the rally, she said she was even more convinced she was backing the right candidate.

“I’m incredibly more enthused,” she said. In particular, she said the endorsements announced at the rally had cemented her opinion of Santorum. “It’s certainly the right people. It’s the people who stand with him for what we believe.”

In addition to Tancredo, former Senate President John Andrews unveiled high-profile endorsements for Santorum from former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer and former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, as well as nods from state Sens. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, and Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, former state Reps. Frank DeFillipo, R-Golden, and Pat Miller, R-Arvada, Montrose County Commissioner Gary Ellis and Montrose Mayor Kathy Ellis.

Tea Party Brewing founder Nancy McKiernan meets former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, during the presidential candidate’­s campaign stop at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood on Feb. 1.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

During a brief press conference that followed his remarks, Santorum denied he was waging the kind of negative campaign he earlier said had no place in the nomination contest. A Santorum television ad that began airing in Colorado on Tuesday compares Gingrich with two proven Democratic bogeymen.

In the ad, a scary-sounding announcer asks viewers to guess the identities of the three politicians who have supported a set of policies meant to alarm Republicans. “Who are these three Cap-and-Trade-loving, bailout-supporting, soft-on-immigration, big-government mandating politicians?” Turns out it’s Obama, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — and Gingrich. “Now you know,” the ad intones.

Asked about the ad’s message, Santorum said it was entirely within bounds.

“I didn’t attack the speaker for working for a company or focus on things he did in his life,” he said. “What I talked about was policy. I think that’s fair game.”

Pointing out that Gingrich supported an individual mandate for health insurance — originally a Republican proposal in the early 1990s but abandoned by the GOP after it became a centerpiece of Obama’s signature health care reform legislation — Santorum called that critical information for voters.

“Why would the people of Colorado nominate somebody for our party who would give away the most important issue in this race, and turn it from one of the most defining issues of our time to one that will be a negative toward us, by having Romney be the author and founder of Obamacare?” he asked. “This is why you need to reset this race.”

Appealing to Republicans to vote their heart — and not simply for the candidate riding high in the polls or getting the most attention on any given day — Santorum said that presidential candidate Ronald Reagan might not have survived the 24-hour cable news environment.

“Reagan was far too radical to ever be elected, he was too dangerous,” or so went the establishment line, Santorum said. Luckily for the country, he added, “people didn’t listen to the experts.”

It was the second stop of the day for Santorum, who landed before 8 a.m. at Centennial Airport and spoke soon after that to the Arapahoe County Republican Men’s Club breakfast in the Denver Tech Center. He continued his campaign swing with rallies in Woodland Park before a packed house sponsored by the Teller County Republican Party and the Teller Tea Party Patriots on Wednesday afternoon and one in Colorado Springs later that night.

He plans to return to Colorado on Monday afternoon to participate in an energy summit at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. And that’s after he keynotes the Weld County GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner on Saturday in Greeley.

It’s the reaction to Santorum’s Lincoln Day appearance that tells Conway the candidate could be catching fire in Colorado.

Noting that Santorum had only agreed to attend the dinner a couple days earlier, Conway said anticipated attendance had soared since word got out, with ticket sales more than tripling in a matter of days.

“There is great momentum for Santorum,” he told The Statesman. “I think conservatives are re-looking at this race. I believe we have an opportunity to provide a victory to Sen. Santorum that totally turns this race upside down.”

Tancredo made the same point after the rally. If there’s one thing about his own approach that’s always resonated with voters, he told The Statesman, it’s that he tells it like it is.

“That’s what Santorum does, and that’s why I’m supporting him,” Tancredo said. “He will have people who will say, ‘Oh, my goodness, he can’t say things like that,’ or ‘He can’t address things that forthrightly.’ But when the smoke boils away, I think he’ll be the one that’s standing.”

And now that he’s backing Santorum, he said, he is “absolutely” looking forward to his caucus on Tuesday night. “I’ve got a reason to go now.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com