Buoyant Santorum Takes Campaign To Texas — And Corrals Some Perry People

Feb 8, 2012
Originally published on February 8, 2012 6:09 pm

Fresh off his hat trick in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum campaigned in Texas on Wednesday, speaking to a group of pastors at Bella Donna Chapel in the town of McKinney.

Forty miles north of Dallas, where black prairie dirt meets the fresh poured concrete of suburbia, this is Rick Santorum country.

This used to be Texas Gov. Rick Perry country.

"My husband, about four months ago, he told me he was going to go meet Rick Santorum, presidential candidate, and I was like: 'No, his last name is Perry. Our governor's name is [Rick] Perry," joked host Donna Blackard, in introducing Santorum to the crowd. "I was like, 'Who's Rick Santorum?' "

But Perry is gone from the Republican presidential race, as is former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

If you're an evangelical Texas Republican, the herd has been thinned. But suddenly, rising like the Phoenix, comes Santorum.

"One of the great gifts that I've had in my political career is that no one ever thinks that I could ever win anything," Santorum joked to the pastors. "The gift of being underestimated is a wonderful gift."

Santorum got trounced in his 2006 re-election campaign for the U.S. Senate. Nevertheless, running as a very conservative anti-abortion Republican in moderate Pennsylvania and winning — he served two House terms and two Senate terms before his 2006 defeat — was, if not a miracle, then always surprising.

Now, he intends to astonish everyone again by stealing the nomination out from under front-runner Mitt Romney's nose. And Santorum had the group of North Texas pastors believing in him by the time he was done on Wednesday.

On the subject of abortion: "It's not a matter of belief. It's a biological fact. That is a human being at the moment of conception. That child is alive," Santorum told the gathering. "The only difference between that child and any one of you is time. Whatever we are in our life, we're all dependent."

Santorum also spoke movingly of his disabled daughter, Bella. He described how she stopped breathing at home one night, in his arms, and he stood there stunned, begging her to breathe.

His wife, a nurse, grabbed the child out of his arms, threw her on the bed and administered CPR.

Santorum described to the audience a call he received later that night, while he was at the hospital.

"I got a call from my daughter, Sarah Maria, who was 10 at the time, and she said, 'Dad, how's Bella?' I said, 'She's hanging in there. It's still touch and go.' She said, 'Dad, Mom saved Bella's life.' I said, 'That's right, she did, honey.' She said, 'Dad, you didn't do anything,' " Santorum said, to laughter from the crowd.

"I said, 'Well, honey, Daddy's a politician. I talked to her. Mommy's a nurse. She, she saved her.' "

The theme of the morning was social issues, and Santorum used the opportunity to give his interpretation of Tuesday's same-sex marriage ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

"The 9th Circuit decision yesterday said, if you believe in traditional marriage between man and a woman and exclusively that, it's because you are a bigot. Your belief of marriage between a man and a woman is purely irrational based on hatred and bigotry. That's what they just wrote," said Santorum.

Outside the chapel, a group of well-wishers reached out in a line to shake Santorum's hand.

The Rev. Bruce Parks drove up from Houston. He was a Rick Perry supporter, but Santorum won his vote Wednesday morning.

"I think he did," said Parks. "Because he spoke to the things that are core issues for me as a husband, as a father and as a minister."

Parks said he likes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's politics, but he likes Santorum better as a person.

"There's an abrasiveness in Newt. I think he has good conservative values, but I think that sometimes there's almost a mean spirit," said Parks.

Mychael Smith, 18, brought her mother to see Santorum. The younger Smith said she's always been a supporter; the rest of the family was for Perry.

"He just struck me because he was about faith and family from the get-go. And he didn't seem like he was fake, and he just seemed like a really good man, and I just really appreciated that," said Smith.

It had been a good 24 hours for Santorum. But the Texas GOP primary is a long way off: Originally scheduled for April 3, it now is likely to be delayed until even later in the campaign season because of a legal fight over redistricting.

Santorum will have to keep surprising people if he wants to get there.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. We begin this hour with the Republican presidential candidate glowing from victory and another who is still looking for a win. In a few minutes, we'll hear from two Ron Paul supporters about why they still believe. But first, Rick Santorum. Fresh off his hat trick in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri, he campaigned in the suburbs of Dallas today. This morning, he spoke at a small church to a group of pastors. NPR's Wade Goodwyn was there.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Forty miles north of Dallas where black prairie dirt meets the fresh-poured concrete of suburbia, this is Rick Santorum country. They rang the Bella Donna Chapel bell as the former senator from Pennsylvania arrived.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

GOODWYN: This used to be Rick Perry country as host Donna Blackard(ph) reminded Santorum.

DONNA BLACKARD: My husband about four months ago, he told me he was going to go meet Rick Santorum, presidential candidate. I was like, no, his last name was Perry. Our governor's name is Perry.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLACKARD: Who's Rick Santorum?

GOODWYN: But Rick Perry is gone and Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann. If you're an evangelical Texas Republican, the herd has been thinned. But suddenly, rising like the phoenix, Rick Santorum.

RICK SANTORUM: One of the great gifts that I've had in my political career is that no one ever thinks that I could ever win anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: The gift of being underestimated is a wonderful gift.

GOODWYN: Rick Santorum got trounced in his 2006 re-election campaign for the U.S. Senate. Nevertheless, running as a very conservative, anti-abortion Republican in moderate Pennsylvania and winning was, if not a miracle, then always surprising. Now, he intends to astonish everyone again by stealing the nomination out from under Mitt Romney's nose. And Santorum had this group of north Texas pastors eating out of his hand by the time he was done here this morning on the subject of abortion.

SANTORUM: It's not a matter of belief. It's a biological fact. That is a human being at the moment of conception. That child is alive. The only difference between that child and anyone of you is time. Whatever we are in our life, we're all dependent.

GOODWYN: Santorum spoke movingly of his disabled daughter Bella. He described how she stopped breathing at home one night in his arms, and he stood there stunned, begging her to breathe. His wife, a nurse, grabbed the child out of his arms, threw her on the bed and administered CPR. That night at the hospital...

SANTORUM: I got a call from my daughter Sarah Maria, who was 10 at the time, and she said, Dad, how's Bella? I said she's hanging in there. It's still touch and go. She said, Dad, Mom, save Bella's life. I said that's right. She did, honey. She said, Dad, you didn't do anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: I said, well, honey, Daddy is a politician. I talked to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: Mommy is a nurse. She saved her.

GOODWYN: The theme of the morning was social issues, and Santorum used the opportunity to give his interpretation of yesterday's gay marriage ruling in California.

SANTORUM: The 9th Circuit decision yesterday said if you believe in traditional marriage between man and a woman and exclusively that it's because you are a bigot. Your belief of marriage between a man and a woman is purely irrational based on hatred and bigotry. That's what they just wrote.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

GOODWYN: Outside the chapel, a group of well-wishers reached out in a line to shake Santorum's hand. Reverend Bruce Parks drove up from Houston. He was a Rick Perry man, but Santorum won his vote this morning.

REVEREND BRUCE PARKS: I think he did because he spoke to the things that are core issues for me as a husband, as a father and as a minister.

GOODWYN: Parks said he likes Newt Gingrich's politics, but he likes Santorum better as a person.

PARKS: There's an abrasiveness in Newt. I think he has good conservative values, but I think that sometimes there's almost a mean spirit.

GOODWYN: Eighteen-year-old Michael Smith brought her mother to see Santorum. She's always been a supporter. The rest of the family was for Perry.

MICHAEL SMITH: He just struck me because he was about faith and family from the get-go, and he didn't seem like he was faking. He just seemed like a really good man. And I just really appreciated that.

GOODWYN: It's been a good 24 hours for Rick Santorum, but the Texas primary is a long way away. He'll have to keep surprising people if he wants to get there. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.