Bloomberg News

Santorum Relies on Prayers, Donated Buses to Get Vote Out

March 15, 2012

Rick Santorum at the Path of the Cross Evangelical Church on March 14, 2012 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photographer: Christopher Gregory/Getty Images

Rick Santorum at the Path of the Cross Evangelical Church on March 14, 2012 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photographer: Christopher Gregory/Getty Images

Moments before Rick Santorum learned he’d won the Alabama and Mississippi primaries, an unnamed supporter emerged from the crowd at his victory rally and called on the audience to take a knee and pray for success.

Each Christian in the room had a job to do, he said in the Lafayette, Louisiana, hotel ballroom on March 13, and that is to fight until their last breath, in their own city or state, to help Santorum’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

With minimal campaign organization and less funds than his rivals, Santorum has boosted his campaign with the votes of a network of evangelical Christians, anti-abortion rights activists and home-schooling parents who are resisting frontrunner Mitt Romney. In a March 8-11 national Bloomberg Poll, likely voters who described themselves as “born again” or evangelical Christian backed Santorum by 42 percent compared with 28 percent for Romney.

“Romney’s inability to close out the race has given Santorum a golden opportunity to unite social conservatives behind him, and they are getting in line,” said Keith Appell, a Republican public relations executive who works with social conservative groups.

Facebook and Pulpits

Parents who home school their children are spreading the message on Facebook. Southern Baptist pastors are promoting Santorum’s candidacy to their members. Anti-abortion rights advocates are boarding the “Rick Bus” for multi-state voter mobilization tours.

Two days before Tennessee’s primary, Santorum attended services on March 4 at the Bellevue Baptist Church, a 7,000- member organization in the Memphis suburbs. “We so desperately need for God to raise up godly people who will run for office,” said Pastor Steve Gaines, as he placed his hand on Santorum’s shoulder to give him a blessing. “So let’s pray for Rick.”

Santorum won the state’s primary.

Such efforts are helping the former Pennsylvania senator compensate for a campaign operation that trails Romney in every measure of strength: money, staff, and organization.

Romney raised $63 million for his campaign through January, compared with $7 million by Santorum. Santorum had spent $148,806 on salaries and benefits through January; Romney’s personnel costs have exceeded $4.5 million. Santorum recently opened a national campaign headquarters in Virginia; Romney’s offices near Boston Harbor have been open nearly a year.

Ten Victories

Despite those disadvantages, Santorum has won 10 state contests in the Republican race and held Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, to a three-percentage-point victory in Michigan and one-point win in Ohio.

He’s tapping into well organized yet loosely affiliated groups of activists whose leaders consider Santorum one of them. “Santorum has piggybacked on the top of other existing grassroots networks,” said Cleta Mitchell, his campaign counsel. “They’re basically activating their networks on his behalf.”

Through March 12, evangelicals comprised nearly 51 percent of all Republican primary voters, according to exit poll data analyzed by the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a social conservative advocacy group. Santorum won 33 percent of those voters, compared with 30 percent for Romney, 30 percent for former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 8 percent for U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas.

Mississippi, Alabama

In the Mississippi and Alabama primaries, almost eight in 10 voters said they were born again Christians or evangelicals, according to exit polling. Among them, Santorum beat Romney, a Mormon, by eight points in Alabama and six points in Mississippi.

The support has helped Santorum offset a Romney’s dominance on television.

Romney and a political action committee supporting him ran 64 percent of the commercials that aired in Mississippi and Alabama in the month before the primaries, compared to just 15 percent aired by Santorum’s backers, according to data from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.

“The conservative movement now is taking over and they’re doing what needs to be done,” said Richard Viguerie, a Republican direct mail strategist who backs Santorum.

Ballot Difficulties

The efforts may not be sufficient for Santorum to overcome Romney. He failed to get on the ballot for Virginia’s March 6 primary because he couldn’t collect enough signatures, and in Illinois he will only be eligible to win 44 of 54 delegates awarded in the state’s March 21 vote because of faulty paperwork. He lags behind Romney -- who’s had victories in 18 contests -- in overall delegates won by slightly less than 2-1, according to the Associated Press tally,

Still, backers attribute Santorum’s staying power so far to support that isn’t reliant on money or the usual campaign infrastructure.

“People with large mailing lists, large donor lists, e- mail lists, radio shows are putting them to work for Santorum,” said Viguerie. “Some of the conservative leaders are making phone calls to pastors, and pastors are spreading the word.”

The process gained momentum after Santorum emerged as the consensus choice of 150 Christian leaders who met at a Texas ranch Jan. 14 in an effort to consolidate opposition to Romney, who once supported abortion rights -- a position that is a disqualifier to some voters motivated by religion.

‘Fertilizing’ Grassroots

“They left that ranch and they went home and started fertilizing their grassroots. And son of gun, things started to grow,” said Richard Land, president of the Nashville, Tennessee-based Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who attended the meeting.

Much of the support is based on Santorum’s opposition to abortion rights, gay marriage, and support for religious organizations. The Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion rights group, has run a bus tour promoting his candidacy through Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. The bus tour plans stops in Missouri, which holds caucuses March 17, and Illinois, which holds its primary March 20.

Santorum makes campaign appearances at Christian schools and churches, where he accepts prayers and applause from congregates and pastors. “True happiness comes from doing God’s will,” Santorum told an audience at a Southern Baptist church in Hixton, Tennessee, on Feb. 25. “It comes not from doing what you want to do, but doing what you ought to do.”

Home Schooling

Religious voters also identify with Santorum’s personal lifestyle. Large families of home-schooled children are fixtures at campaign events for Santorum, who with his wife has home- schooled his seven children. “The home-schooling community is an influential and expansive network that really flies beneath the media radar,” Appell said.

Santorum also has campaigned across the country with the Duggars, the evangelical Christian family of 21 that stars in the TLC reality show “19 Kids & Counting.” They often follow Santorum to events, bringing along musical instruments so they can perform Christian songs for the crowd.

Mitchell, the campaign’s lawyer, said she often receives e- mail messages from volunteers with lines of Biblical scripture at the bottom.

“They feel like they’re really part of a crusade,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at llerer@bloomberg.net; Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington at at jdavis159@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net


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