Santorum in Iowa

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) is in Iowa this morning.  He’s speaking over the noon hour at an Iowa Right-to-Life gathering (UPDATE: I’m told about 75 people were at the IRL event), then he’ll drive to Dubuque where he’ll deliver a speech this evening at the invitation of the American Future Fund.

Santorum spoke to me very early this morning for over 20 minutes, covering a wide range of topics. Santorum’s appearance in Iowa has raised speculation that he may run for president in 2010.

“The reason I came here is because someone asked me to come.  That’s the truth.  I had no grand design to come and speak in Iowa, Santorum said, saying he had been invited to speak by the American Future Fund.  “I said, ‘All right, you know, if we can work out a time I’ll be happy to come out and talk.  I’m doing talks all over the country…I do a lot of speaking; I’ve been doing it for the last three years and so, I thought, yeah, it’s nice to go to Iowa and I come to Iowa and give a speech and people will pay a lot more attention.  Well, that turned out to really be the case and it sort of surprised me because, you know, I did this interview with Politico, you know, asking if I’d do it and I said, ‘Look, you know, I’m doing it because I was asked.’

At this point, I told Santorum that on January 20, 1997 — the day Bill Clinton was inaugurated for a second term — Steve Forbes called me in the Radio Iowa newsroom to announce he would run for the GOP’s 2000 presidential nomination.  Then, I asked Santorum if he is running in 2012.

Santorum: “‘No, you know, I don’t know what, I was asked to come here. I ‘m concerned about the country.’ And I believe that we need to have a voice out there, someone who can articulate the Republican vision on all fronts and I think if you look at my record, I check the boxes and I think I’ve been effective in articulating that in the time that I’ve been in office…and I try to be out there and provide an alternative point of view.

“I have to tell you I was surprised by the response, just invitations…If you Googled ‘Santorum in Iowa’ before I did that Politico interview, there were 350 items would come up, entries that would come up on the search.  I Googled it this morning. You know how many came up?  Guess….1,360,000 entries!  That surprised me, you know, when I see that and when I saw the reaction out there.  It’s a little, it makes you step back and think when I actually wasn’t thinking about it.

“You say I should have been thinking about this long ago.  Well, I wasn’t. Am I thinking about it seriously now?  Well, I’m here.

“When you sit in the United States Senate, as I have for the past 12 years, and you look at all the people who run for president, I know ‘em all.  It’s the old idea of familiarity breeds contempt I don’t think is true, but you certainly know people and you know their pluses and minuses and you get to really know these people and you look around and you say, ‘How can any of these guys — because you know how tough the job is — how can any of these people really be president of the United States?’ And the bottom line is you come to realize as you certainly meet presidents of the United States that none of these people are perfect, all of these people have pluses and minuses and good people around them and bad people. I mean, there’s nobody that really can be president if you think about it.  No one really qualifies for that job and if you really go out and you really want that job, I’m a little suspicious of you.  If you really believe you can do that job and you have a lot of confidence (and say,) ‘Oh, yeah, I can do this,’ I worry about you because you don’t really know what you’re up against if that’s the kind of attitude that you bring to it so I always look for someone who has a little sense of perspective and humility when you look at this and so if that’s what I look for in a candidate  then certainly if this is even in the realm of possibility for me to do, then that’s certainly how I’m going to approach the situation and I don’t know, maybe I need to be thinking about this, but, boy, this is a huge commitment.  This is a big job.  This is an important thing and I’m not going to enter into it lightly.”

Henderson: “Do you want to put your family through it?”

Santorum: “That’s a big issue.  I mean, I’ve got seven kids.  I’m talking today about my youngest daughter…and you know, every day from her is a gift.  She’s not supposed to be here and so you think about, ‘Do I want to spend that time away? Will she even be here when that goes on?  What will be the effect on my family?’ I mean, it’s a big decision and I so I know people here sort of, you know, and I say people –  reporters, you have this sort of hard-boiled look at things and everybody’s got their angle and their agenda.  I get that.  I understand that.  You know, I see it.”

Henderson: “Well, as you saw by Googling yourself, there is a part of the political culture that is in a 24/7 campaign mode.”

Santorum: “Sure.  Well the other thing is, I talked to some party leaders out here and they’re always concerned about Iowa’s position and whether they can maintain that position.  If my little foray is any indication, you guys still have it.  You’ve still got it.  People still  hear, ‘Iowa,’ and they get it.  They get the importance of the state, but look, it’s a tough decision and it’s not going to be one that I make quickly and it’s not going to be one that I will make based just on, ‘Hey, can I win or can I compete?’ I mean, part of it is, certainly the reason I’m here and if I would do it, I would think: ‘Is my voice an important voice at this time for the country?’ and that’s sort of the first hurdle that I’ve got to get through is, ‘Do I make a contribution?’  If I make a contribution, that’s step one.  Then you get into all the other details of everything else, from the political point of view.  Obviously, even before step one, on the non-political, is the whole family consideration.  That, to me, is very important.”

I opened this morning’s conversation by asking Santorum if he had sought advice from former Iowa Congressman Jim Nussle, a fellow Republican who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2006 and, in 2007 and 2008, served as the last budget director in the Bush Administration.

“We’re part of the famous or infamous, depending on your perspective, ‘Gang of Seven,’” Santorum said.  “…The most important advice I got from him was: ‘relax and be yourself.’”

Santorum later in the conversation added that he is often mistakenly identified as the congressman who wore the paper bag and unmasked himself during a speech on the House floor, a symbolic move as the “Gang of Seven” called for disclosing members of congress who had bounced checks at the House Bank.  “It was Nussle (who wore the paper bag).  Here in Iowa you know that, but I get accused of that all the time. It was Jim Nussle!  It wasn’t me,” Santorum said, with a laugh.

A live “webstream” of Santorum’s speech this evening is available here.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.

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