Santorum Takes Campaign To Home State

In the race for the Republican presidential nomination, there's a temporary lull in the voting. On April 24, voters go to the polls in five states, including Pennsylvania, former Senator Rick Santorum's home state. The last time Santorum faced the voters in Pennsylvania he suffered a crushing, 18 point loss. With former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney consolidating his front-runner status, Santorum risks another loss in the Keystone State by staying in the race.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Meanwhile, the battle among Republicans over who should challenge President Obama in November has moved to Pennsylvania. Its GOP presidential primary is still nearly three weeks away, but Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are already campaigning there. For Santorum, losing his home state could be the death blow to his presidential bid, and there are growing signs such a loss could be in store. NPR's David Welna has been travelling with Santorum through Pennsylvania, and he sent this report.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: You might say Rick Santorum's do-or-die campaign here is in full swing. Outside the Blair County Courthouse yesterday in the town of Hollidaysburg, a high school jazz band livens up a crowd of about 150. State Senator John Eichelberger opens this rally for Rick on a pugnacious note.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

STATE SENATOR JOHN EICHELBERGER: I think it's time for Rick to get tough. And Rick is going to get real tough. So how about joining me as I present this pair of boxing gloves to the next president, Rick Santorum?

WELNA: For Santorum, who permanently moved his family to Virginia after losing his Senate seat six years ago, this is a homecoming.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

RICK SANTORUM: It's great to be back and really kick off our campaign here in Pennsylvania for the next three weeks.

WELNA: And he connects with the crowd with what, for them, is a stinging reminder.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SANTORUM: Barack Obama, four years ago, referred to this area of Pennsylvania, right here, as a place that holds on grip, clings to their guns and their Bibles. You're damn right we do.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

WELNA: Santorum uses that same tone of wounded resentment, vowing to the crowd he's not about to declare game over.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SANTORUM: I mean, imagine going to the NCAA finals and saying, well, it's halftime. You're behind. Quit. There's a long way to go.

WELNA: How long may depend largely on how Santorum fairs here in the April 24th primary. For Gary Zimmerman, a retiree in the crowd who's still undecided, Santorum cannot afford to lose.

GARY ZIMMERMAN: If he loses in Pennsylvania, which is his state, you know, that's kind of a tear-jerker, if you want to call it that. He's got to win Pennsylvania. If he doesn't, and the state's not going to back him, who else is?

WELNA: And even if he wins, some of Santorum's supporters think Pennsylvania should be his last stand. Bob Kramer(ph), a Pittsburg business consultant, has known Santorum for 20 years.

BOB KRAMER: I think Rick has made the statement that he is a force to be reckoned with now and into the future, and I think, in the end, he'll do what's best for the Republican Party.

WELNA: Which, according to Kramer, would be endorsing Mitt Romney. Other long time Santorum associates expressed doubts about him even winning here.

CHARLIE GEROW: I think he could lose Pennsylvania.

WELNA: That's Harrisburg GOP political strategist Charlie Gerow. He's held fundraisers at his house for Santorum in the past, but he's backing Newt Gingrich this year. Gerow says Santorum lost his Senate seat by 18 percentage points in part because he alienated a lot of conservatives.

GEROW: The fact of the matter is that six years ago, he had a lot of trouble with his Republican base, and a lot of those folks that were angry with him over the endorsement of Arlen Specter, for example, are still not happy with him. So he's got some spade-work to do here in Pennsylvania and some bridge-building and fence-mending to do before he can really get his campaign on track here. And time is running out.

WELNA: Last night, at a bowling alley outside Harrisburg, Santorum was back to spinning a heavy ball down a long lane in hopes of a pay-off at the end.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

WELNA: It was a strike, exactly what Santorum says he's aiming for statewide.

SANTORUM: We're going to win Pennsylvania, and we need to win Pennsylvania.

WELNA: Santorum's seen his lead here over Romney narrow in polls. And one's out today that has Romney in the lead. Santorum is now back in Virginia, taking a break in campaigning or the Easter weekend. He met there today with conservatives, hoping to persuade Gingrich to call it quits. No sign Gingrich is about to do that. David Welna, NPR News, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.