Rick Santorum, A Marianne Man

by Alec MacGillis | January 19, 2012

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Rick Santorum's South Carolina campaign director, Kerry Wood, is hard at work presiding over a get out the vote operation in a vacant brick Cape Cod on a strip on the edge of town here, where 10 volunteers are manning the phones and a few others are sticking wires into lawn signs. He said he wouldn't have time to watch Newt Gingrich's second wife, Marianne, expound on her former husband's desire for an "open marriage" in an ABC interview Thursday night. But he made no bones about hoping that plenty of South Carolina voters would tune in.

"People in South Carolina don't like that sort of thing," he said. "We have real big family values kind of people down here. I think people will hold his personal past against him." Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

It's come to that for Santorum, who not long ago looked poised for a very strong showing in this state, what with his stunning virtual tie for first in Iowa and his claim to being the sort of "full spectrum" conservative (solidly right on fiscal, foreign policy and social issues) that South Carolina Republicans supposedly demand. He's now stalled in the state polls, barely in the double-digits, as he watches Gingrich emerge (again) as the  last-stand conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. For Santorum, a man who only half-jokingly recently said that he does not sit on couches with women other than his wife, it must be galling indeed that his candidacy now hangs on fighting for socially conservative voters with a thrice-married man who allegedly carried the '70s-swinger style well into the 1990s. (On a Christian talk radio station here this evening, I heard the arch-conservative hostess defending Gingrich by arguing that it was the free-love liberals of the '60 and '70s who had infected the country with open-marriage notions. No, it was not clear to me how that fact alone got Newt off the hook.)

This evening, I checked in with another one of Santorum's leading supporters in the state, lawyer Bill Connor, to see what he made of his candidate's plight. Connor, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who ran as a Tea Party candidate for lieutenant governor last year, lamented that it was Monday night's Fox News debate that had set Newt on fire, with his red-hot riffs about food stamps and Andrew Jackson's take-no-prisoners military strategy. Gingrich got lucky, Connor said, that it was he who was "lobbed the softball" about Ron Paul's foreign policy views. "He was just fortunate he was called and he was able to give ones of those lines," Connor said. As for the food-stamp riff: "That was a risky question to answer as he did. But people respected the boldness, rather than parsing things. He took a risk of possibly coming across as a racist but he was able to explain that it wasn't about racism, it was about work ethic. I don't support Newt but I have to hand it to him in standing his ground against Juan Williams." Meanwhile, of course, Connor's candidate was making a pitch for restoring voting rights to ex-convicts.

Connor said that Santorum's stall-out can also be attributed to the pounding he's been getting on the airwaves, which has been coming not only from Romney and his Super-PAC but also from Ron Paul, who's been going after Santorum for being insufficiently pro-gun. "Ron Paul has gone on a jihad against Santorum and that's having effects," Connor said.

More sanguine was Alexia Newman, Santorum's chief liaison to South Carolina's social conservatives. When I reached her at the crisis pregnancy center she runs in Spartanburg, she placed hope in the large number of undecided voters and some new endorsements for Santorum from evangelical leaders in the state, which had followed the official coalescing behind Santorum at at a Texas summit of national evangelical leaders last weekend. "You know, Newt's just a strong debater but it's going to take more than a strong debater. Newt has some baggage. People are going to be surprised on Saturday." What did she mean by baggage, I asked -- Marianne? "I'm not going to talk about it," Newman said.

She was less  sanguine about Rick Perry's endorsement of Gingrich, which she chalked up to South Carolina Republican Katon Dawson, the former Gingrich ally who instead threw his hat in with Perry, becoming his South Carolina director. "This is Katon's way of making up with Newt," she said. (Another endorsement must also rankle: radio ads here are playing a Santorum ad that cites a nice thing that was said about him Sarah Palin. But everyone knows that she said this week that, at least in South Carolina, she'd be voting for Newt.)

Also hanging over the campaign here is the irony that, had Iowa Republican officials done their job right, Santorum apparently would have been able to claim victory in the caucuses, rather than a moral-victory virtual tie. I ran into Santorum's Iowa field director, Jake Braunger, sticking wires into lawn signs in the Greenville office, and he played down the belated affirmation, saying that the Iowa showing had done the job of proving to voters who liked Santorum but doubted his viability that he was indeed someone who could compete. But it was hard not to believe that the campaign's true sentiment lay in the line I heard Wood, the South Carolina director, utter as he talked on the phone in his office, pacing back and forth with a bottle of Tums on the table in front of him: "Unfortunately, there's a long list of woulda, coulda, shouldas."

 

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