Posted at 01:56 PM ET, 01/02/2012

Santorum gets campaign boost from Jim Bob Duggar of ‘19 Kids and Counting’

POLK CITY, Iowa — Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum finally got a bus Monday.

But the massive white coach with the words “Rick Santorum for President” emblazoned on the side parked outside the seriously over-jammed local coffee shop where Santorum held his first Iowa event doesn’t belong to the campaign.


Reality star Jim Bob Duggar and a dozen of his 19 children drove a bus with “Rick Santorum for President” on the side from Arkansas to Iowa. (Rosalind S. Helderman - The Washington Post)
Instead, it was brought from Arkansas by well-known reality show star Jim Bob Duggar. The star of TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” is a former Mike Huckabee supporter who decided last week to hop on board for Santorum, so after church on Sunday, he piled a dozen of his 19 children onto the bus and drove to Iowa.

“The mistake we made was the whole political candidate field was splintered last time,” Duggar said of 2008, when Huckabee won Iowa but could not translate the win to a national nomination. “A lot of Christians throughout the United States were supporting Fred Thompson and several other people. We don’t need to make the same mistake.”

“We’re calling on the Christian people throughout the United States to get behind Rick Santorum now, and don’t splinter the vote, get behind a true conservative with a proven track record,” said Duggar.

It’s a step up for Santorum, whose shoestring operation has allowed him to trek until now only in a supporter’s pick-up truck. And indeed, Santorum left Polk City for his next rally in Perry in the truck, a man trotting next to it to shake his hand through the open window, a dozen television cameras chasing to catch the moment, paparazzi style.

This is what a surge looks like.


A crush of reporters greeted Rick Santorum’s campaign at Polk City’s Reising Sun Cafe. (Rosalind S. Helderman - The Washington Post)
Included in the overwhelming crush of media at Polk City’s Reising Sun Cafe stop were reporters from Italy and Australia. Dozens of actual voters — who two weeks ago could likely have snagged a private audience with Santorum — were now pressed out of the restaurant and stood outside in the cold. “I’m actually from Polk City,” said one to another as he failed to squeeze his way inside. “Yeah, we don’t count,” the other responded.

The daughter of the two-year-old shop’s owner said the campaign had said there would probably be 50 people in attendance when they booked the space. Instead, a few hundred came — despite a hand-painted sign on one wall indicating that the restaurant’s maximum capacity was 49 — spilling outside into the frigid morning air.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Lindsey Reising, who added that her family will remain neutral in the race to avoid offending customers. “My friend just called and said I was live on CNN the whole time.”

After months of landing near the bottom of most polls, Santorum suddenly found himself in third in the key Des Moines Register poll released Saturday night — and quickly rising. Now he’s facing questions about whether he must win outright Tuesday to translate his Iowa momentum into a national campaign.

“We have the momentum here,” he told the crowd. “I don’t know what we’re going to finish. It was really funny — David Gregory said to me on ‘Meet the Press,’ ‘Now, do you have to finish first?’ I said, ‘A week ago, two weeks ago, your reporter was asking me if I’m getting out of the race! Now all of a sudden you’re going to say I have to finish first?’ This is the craziness of the media.”

“Look, the people of Iowa are going to decide,” he said. “If they put us out there with one of the biggest bumps out of Iowa, that’s going to give us a chance.”

Despite the sardine-like, fire-hazard quality of the crowd, Santorum followed a pattern established through 360 previous Iowa events. He took every question asked by voters (“One more question,” he said after speaking for about 30 minutes. “No?” he said, spotting more hands. “Two? Three more questions.”)

And he offered lengthy and at times in-depth responses. He said his first executive order as president would be to ban federal funding for abortion, that American citizens accused of terrorism should have access to lawyers and courts, and he promised to push for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

And without naming him, he criticized rival Mitt Romney, leading in the Iowa polls, for running to be the country’s chief executive.

“A CEO assigns people who work for them. I can tell you, as a senator, I didn’t work for the president. Congress doesn’t work for the president. The American people don’t work for the president. It’s the other way around,” he said. “We need to someone who can communicate that message and do so out of conviction.”

Read more on PostPolitics.com

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Where the candidates are campaigning

Romney edges out Paul in new Iowa poll

By  |  01:56 PM ET, 01/02/2012

 
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