WHERE IN the world is Rick Santorum? Iowa.
No, he didn’t go there to congratulate Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz and the rest of the Iowa Hawkeyes on their recent 21-10 victory over his alma mater at Gov. James A. Beaver Stadium in State College.
Instead, Santorum traveled to the University of Dubuque on Thursday evening to address the American Future Fund, a very conservative group of individuals in a state that has voted Democratic in five of the last six presidential elections. Prior to his much-anticipated speech, Santorum visited Des Moines to meet with pro-life advocates and statewide Republican Party leaders.
His itinerary did not include a stop-over in Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa and Kinnick Stadium, site of the 2008 Hawkeye victory over Penn State. You might remember Danny Murray splitting the uprights with only seconds remaining to give the Hawks a 21-20 win.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum was not interested in meeting every Iowan last week, but his obvious interest in greeting Iowa conservatives has attracted the attention of GOP leaders nationwide. Could Santorum be interested in pursuing the 2012 Republican presidential nomination?
The Iowa caucuses are only 27 months away; you bet he’s interested.
In 2012 Santorum will be only 54 years old, having served 16 years in Congress and risen to become a member of the Republican Senate leadership. This was during the GOP heyday when Republicans regularly controlled majorities in both houses of Congress.
That changed in 2006 when Santorum and those Republican majorities were booted from Washington in very large numbers. In Pennsylvania, Santorum was thumped by state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. Casey amassed nearly 60 percent of the vote. It was the largest defeat of an incumbent U.S. senator in almost 30 years. Can Santorum realistically hope to rise from such devastating ashes? No one knows, but the fact he might try is impressive.
With a compelling message, the possibility of a Santorum presidential bid is no more far-fetched than the probable Sarah Palin plan to the nomination. These two possible candidates might share some of the same “unusual” ideas, but Santorum is very bright while Palin is, well, you know.
With a compelling message, Santorum could be expected to shine in debates before the conservative party faithful. In a party where moderates need not apply, Santorum remains a favorite among the far right. With a compelling message, he could provide an option for Republicans aghast at the discovery that Palin is their undisputed Republican front-runner.
Santorum might also benefit from two front-loaded events on the national political calendar. The January 2012 Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary are critical to securing the Republican nomination. Both require direct contact with individual voters. This helps Santorum who, in intimate settings, is one of the most likable guys you will ever meet.
Thursday evening, however, we heard nothing compelling from Sen. Santorum. Sadly, his Iowa presentation was stilted, tired and a mere reiteration of mundane talking points coming out of Washington each and every day. Simply repeating the current Republican mantra won’t defeat Palin, and it certainly won’t win the nomination.
Santorum began his Iowa speech with some well-placed, self-deprecating humor concerning the Hawkeyes’ recent victories over Penn State. Santorum is a 1980 grad. If he wants to play in Iowa, Santorum needs to develop a compelling message, or this Nittany Lion will fall short once again.