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Rick Santorum Stokes GOP Divisions in Run-Up to Illinois Primary Rick Santorum Stokes GOP Divisions in Run-Up to Illinois Primary Rick Santorum Stokes GOP Divisions in Run-Up to Illinois Primary Rick Santorum Stokes GOP ...

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The Trail: 2012 Presidential News from the Field / Campaign 2012

Rick Santorum Stokes GOP Divisions in Run-Up to Illinois Primary

Win or lose, he hopes to emerge with ammunition against Mitt Romney.

“You here in Illinois -- you don’t get a chance very often to speak loudly as conservatives in Illinois. But you can in this race,” Rick Santorum told voters on Monday, March 19, 2012, the eve of the state's Republican presidential primary.(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

photo of Rebecca Kaplan
March 20, 2012

MOLINE, Ill. – Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has not run what you’d call an outreach campaign in this state for Tuesday’s primary. He is hoping out loud that voters will sort themselves into conservatives versus moderates, urbanites versus rural residents -- and produce an outcome that shows he and his campaign reflect the true heart of the GOP.

Illinois will send 69 delegates to the Republican convention in August, and 54 are being chosen in the primary. With Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul largely absent from the state, the contest has turned into a faceoff between Santorum and front-runner Mitt Romney.

Santorum sees opportunity in the Southern and Western areas of this blue state, the regions far from the urban and suburban enclaves of Chicagoland. He has forfeited 10 delegates up front by failing to get his allies onto some ballots, and polls show him 4 to 15 percentage points behind Romney, but even a loss could help Santorum. If he outdraws Romney among fervent conservatives and rural voters, it will give him more fodder for his argument that Romney is out of touch with the base of his party and the heartland of the country.

 

The former Pennsylvania senator constantly berates President Obama for trying to divide the country. But he seems to have no problem setting up an us-versus-them proposition within his own party.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the general election, but I do know this: The people of Illinois have an opportunity in this primary to really send shock waves through the establishment moderate Republicans who have been pushing with their billionaire dollars a … moderate governor from Massachusetts who goes out and says I’m not the conservative,” Santorum told a few hundred voters in an airport hangar in Mt. Vernon, five hours south of Chicago.

If you multiply your numbers by 10, Santorum told the crowd, “Southern Illinois can speak very loudly.”

Everywhere he goes – such as a trip to President Reagan’s hometown of Dixon, Ill., on Monday – Santorum praises the values of small-town America, where “everyone looked out for each other.”

“You here in Illinois -- you don’t get a chance very often to speak loudly as conservatives in Illinois. But you can in this race,” Santorum added later in Moline, 166 miles west of Chicago on the Mississippi  River.

Santorum stoked the moderate-conservative division even in Arlington Heights, a Chicago suburb, as he arrived in the state on Friday night.

“You can make up for all of that frustration. You can make up for all of the slights by the leaders of this party here in Illinois. You can go out and win us this race!” he told 1,000 people in a high school gym there.

Santorum has specifically mocked Romney for seeking out the urban areas of the state -- for instance, in Mt. Vernon as he set up an attack against the health law his rival signed while governor of Massachusetts. “If Governor Romney decides to come down here in downstate of Illinois, instead of spending his time in the Chicagoland area … and if he deigns to allow a question to be asked, which would be a first, ask him why he doesn’t talk about Obamacare?” Santorum said.

Santorum has ramped up and expanded his attacks against Romney, from insisting Romney can’t articulate the values of those who want to repeal “Obamacare” to portraying him on Monday as a “Wall Street financier” who stuck up for his buddies in finance rather than for the people on America’s Main Streets. The attack brought the race full circle back to early January, when Romney was being tarred by Gingrich as a “predatory capitalist” and by Rick Perry as a “vulture capitalist.”

 

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