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Jan. 3 (Bloomberg) -- As poll numbers surged in Rick Santorum’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination, more attention has fallen to his wheels.
While candidates such as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich are crisscrossing Iowa in large buses with their names on the sides, Santorum has been riding in a Ram 1500 pickup lovingly called the “Chuck Truck,” named after Chuck Laudner, his campaign aide.
Laudner, former executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa, purchased the four-door pickup in late 2006, he said in an interview in Newton, Iowa, yesterday while his candidate addressed more than 100 people inside a pizza restaurant.
The pickup has become a prop in the campaign for Santorum, who frequently mentions it to audiences. His efforts to visit all 99 of Iowa’s counties and hold more than 370 town hall meetings have helped propel him in the latest polls of likely Iowa caucus-goers who begin the 2012 presidential nomination process tonight.
Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, rose to third place in the most closely watched Iowa poll released on Dec. 31. The Des Moines Register Iowa Poll showed Santorum backed by 15 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers, after a surge in the final two days of sampling. Ahead of him were Romney, at 24 percent, and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas at 22 percent.
The “Chuck Truck” when purchased when the Ram was produced by DaimlerChrysler AG. Daimler AG divested control of Chrysler in 2007. Chrysler Group LLC, majority owned by Fiat SpA, emerged from a U.S.-backed bankruptcy in 2009.
In the final days on the campaign trail, Santorum is often swarmed by television cameras as he hops into the gray truck for his next stop as he was during a visit to a pizza restaurant in Boone yesterday.
A line that often draws laughter on the campaign trail is when Santorum starts talking about a graphic the New York Times ran that showed how the candidates were traveling.
“All of these people and all of these buses and then me -- with a Ram pickup truck and one person,” he said to laughter in Sioux City on Jan. 1.
The truck has become part of Santorum’s narrative that he’s hardworking and spent the time to travel across the state.
“I didn’t have the money to compete here,” Santorum said. “But we were able to do it. Why? Because money doesn’t buy Iowa -- hard work, good ideas, strong principles” do.
Santorum isn’t the first candidate to get attention for his truck. Fred Thompson, the former U.S. senator from Tennessee who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, used to campaign in a red pickup that drew media attention as did Janet Reno when running for governor of Florida.
While Laudner’s truck has more than 178,000 miles on it, he said he’s not planning a replacement anytime soon. He has a second Ram with more than 300,000 miles, he said.
The campaign never intended the truck to become a prop in the campaign, Laudner said.
“It was just him jumping in with me,” Laudner said. “I was going out and doing intros for him.”
When Chrysler and General Motors Co. have come up during this campaign season, it’s often because of the U.S. bailouts that kept them from liquidation in 2009.
While not “a big fan” of the bailouts, “This is what I drive,” Laudner said. “I’m not going to swap out vehicles for a political statement.”
--With assistance from Albert Hunt in Washington. Editors: Bill Koenig, John Lear
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