Former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) is continuing his swing out West today, taking his campaign to the Super Tuesday state of Idaho.
The sparsely populated Gem State doesn’t usually get a lot of love from the presidential hopefuls — in part because it typically comes late in the process. Four years ago, the state’s GOP presidential primary didn’t take place until May, by which point Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had already clinched the nomination (although Ron Paul had a strong showing in the primary as well).
But this time around, things are different.
The Idaho GOP has decided to hold a presidential caucus on Super Tuesday, March 6 — a move that gives the state greater relevance in the race. In addition, 29 of the state’s 32 national convention delegates will be awarded proportionally based on the caucus vote (as opposed to some other caucus states such as Maine and Colorado, where the presidential straw poll is separate from the delegate-awarding process).
If a candidate gets more than 50 percent in a given county, that candidate wins the entire county’s delegates — and if a candidate wins more than 50 percent of the statewide county caucus delegates, then he or she is awarded all of the state’s national convention delegates.
Complicated? Yes. But the move appears to have given the candidates more incentive to visit the state. Santorum — who finds himself virtually tied with Romney in some national polls — is holding two events there today on the heels of a trip to Washington state. He holds an early afternoon event in Coeur d’Alene, a lakeside resort town about 30 miles east of Spokane on Idaho’s panhandle. He then heads south to Boise for an evening rally.
Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, is continuing his California swing with a campaign stop in Tulare tonight. Both Mitt Romney and Ron Paul have no public events today.
Santorum’s trip to Washington on Monday was another example of him playing small ball while his opponents swing for the fences, aiming for wins in bigger primary contests. He was the first candidate to visit Washington (even though Romney announced a slew of endorsements from officials in the state on Monday). Speaking to supporters and a very vocal group of protesters, Santorum said the March 3 non-binding caucuses — essentially a straw poll — will set the tone for Super Tuesday, three days later, when 10 states have their nominating contests.
“Your caucus, your voice will speak very loudly about where the race is heading into these big Super Tuesday primaries. Your caucus across this state can have a huge impact on who the Republican nominee will be,” Santorum said. “I ask each and every one of you to do your duty, to live up to your honor, to come forward and to go to those caucuses on Saturday morning.”
Arriving in Washington on the very day that same-sex marriage became law in the state, Santorum encountered a raucous group of protesters — some waving gay pride flags. He spent part of his day meeting with local officials and pastors, condemning the recent reversal of California’s gay marriage ban by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court.
He called it a “sad day for many people.”
“The core of American values is at stake in this country,” he said.
Santorum heads to North Dakota — another Super Tuesday caucus state — on Wednesday. His visits there, to Idaho and to Washington state reflect his belief that die-hard social and fiscal conservatives will make up the bulk of caucus-goers in all three places, opening the door for him to possibly snag three more momentum-building wins.
Today on the trail (Courtesy of candidate schedules and the PBS NewsHour Political Calendar; all times Eastern):
11 a.m.: Newt Gingrich holds a fundraiser at the Fairbanks Ranch Country Club in San Diego.
1 p.m.: Callista Gingrich meets with the San Diego County Federation of Women.
3 p.m.: Rick Santorum holds a rally in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
5:30 p.m.: Newt Gingrich makes a campaign stop in Tulare, Calif.
10 p.m.: Rick Santorum holds a rally in Boise, Idaho