Posted at 06:14 PM ET, 12/30/2011

Rick Santorum brings homey style to Iowa sports bar, as supporters savor his rise

AMES, Iowa — Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum on Friday brought his homey person-to-person campaign style — and the kind of media throng that accompanies a candidate rising in the polls — to a sports bar full of Iowa State fans gathered to watch their team battle Rutgers in the the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.


Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum is surrounded by media as he orders food at Buffalo Wild Wings during a campaign stop on Friday, Dec. 30, 2011 in Ames, Iowa. (Evan Vucci - AP)

The result: a crazy clash of sports and political cultures, as Santorum attempted to navigate narrow rows between tables of beer drinking, wing munching football fans, crowded by dozens of reporters.

In the darkened Buffalo Wild Wings bar, lit largely by massive overhead television screens displaying the game, Santorum laughed and leaned through the reporters to shake hands.

Eventually, he succumbed to the crowd and sat at a table, as voters edged in to snap pictures and reporters asked how he felt about his rising Iowa poll numbers.

One French reporter asked what kind of relationship Santorum would hope to have with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“My objective to have very strong relationships with all our allies,” he said, as ESPN blared in the background.

One fan handed over a red Iowa State sweater vest, and with cameras rolling, Santorum tore off his own navy blue vest and replaced it, to the delight of the crowd.

Santorum has become known in Iowa for these kinds of local events. At the wing joint, he offered no remarks but stayed for more than an hour, outlasting most of the national media crowd that had come to chronicle his apparent surge.

“A lot of folks are not paying attention to politics during a bowl game for Iowa State,” Santorum said of the stop. “The same thing tonight. We’re just going to participate and enjoy the festivities.”

For long-time Santorum fans, the new popularity has been especially exciting.

Kittie Peacock, 55, the manager of a Des Moines retail store, said he believes other Iowans are getting to see what she’s known about Santorum for a few months.

“I believe he has the experience,” she said. “A lot of people say they will cut government. He’s shown he knows how to do it.”

A strong showing in Iowa, she said, will mean more media attention and new dollars for Santorum.

“I’m voting to give him a chance,” she said.

“I can’t tell you how many people I talk to who say ‘I like Rick Santorum. I like him a lot.’ But they always say,’ I’m not sure he can get the votes.’ I keep telling them, if you vote what you think, he’ll get the votes,” said Carrie Jollymore, 34, Peacock’s daughter, who came from Des Moines with her husband to mingle with the candidate.

“At the debates, it’s always the Newt and Mitt show. But the more people see him, the more they like him. And if more people get to see him, more will get on board,” she said.

Jollymore, who works for a refrigeration company, said she will feel comfortable with her choice, even if Santorum is forced from the race in a few weeks.

“At the end of the day, I want to vote my conscience,” she said.

Frank Seydel, 67, said he’s looking for a candidate who his head says is a smart idea and his heart can accept also.

“It’s a hard thing to find,” he said.

He came to the Wild Wings to get a sense of Santorum. But he’s leaning to Romney.

“What happens when you say you want to vote with your head is people think you’re cold and Machiavellian,” said Seydel, a retired neonatologist and Methodist pastor. “I’m not. I want to find a candidate who’s electable.”

Though he agrees with Santorum on social issues, Seydel said he fears Santorum’s positions could alienate moderate general electorate voters. “Romney can appeal to the broad middle, and that’s what we need,” he said.

By  |  06:14 PM ET, 12/30/2011

 
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