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Daily Santorum: Win, place or show?

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Santorum sweater vests

When Early Returns started doing its regular Santorum posts something like a year ago now, it was sort of an inside joke for Pittsburgh politicos trying to keep tabs on the hometown guy as he shouldered his very much uphill battle for the presidential nomination. Here and there somebody would call him a dark horse, but never did we imagine -- and again, we've been writing about him every day for months -- that he'd be considered a front-runner in Iowa.

There's a reason why it's being called the most tumultuous caucus in history.

Two weeks ago, as Jeff Zeleny writes at the NYT, he could hardly get office employees to listen to him during lunch break. Now he's getting swamped wherever he goes, as our Laura Olson has noted repeatedly the past few days.

Roger Simon at Politico surveys a scene where a scant 300 Iowans at a rally can make a candidate "dizzy with delight."

NYT poll expert Nate Silver thinks Santorum will come in third just a couple points behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, but says the free media from Iowa will help him much more than better paid candidates:

Still, the stronger Mr. Santorum’s performance, the more credible his claim to being the one and only “anti-Romney” candidate. Moreover, Mr. Santorum could use the earned media from a strong finish more than most of his opponents, since his campaign has little financial or organizational strength beyond Iowa. Positive momentum from the caucuses, particularly in the event of a clear first-place finish, would bide Mr. Santorum time, giving him the chance to build a more robust campaign operation before South Carolina and Florida. His near-term objective would be finishing second or a strong third in New Hampshire, which might require as little as 15 percent of the vote there.

Mark Blumenthal at Huffington Post sees the same Romney/Paul/Santorum finish.

Earned media is both good and bad for the former Pa senator. The NYT does a whole piece on his sweater vests, while CBS quotes him with the following eye-raising remarks on welfare before a mostly-white Iowa crowd:

Answering a question about foreign influence on the U.S. economy, the former Pennsylvania senator went on to discuss the American entitlement system - which he argued is being used to politically exploit its beneficiaries.

"It just keeps expanding - I was in Indianola a few months ago and I was talking to someone who works in the department of public welfare here, and she told me that the state of Iowa is going to get fined if they don't sign up more people under the Medicaid program," Santorum said. "They're just pushing harder and harder to get more and more of you dependent upon them so they can get your vote. That's what the bottom line is."

He added: "I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money."

UPDATE 4:56 p.m. There's some debate on what Santorum actually said. (WashPost)

Expect a lot more digging into Santorum's other comments, too, should he be catapulted into front-runner status. The liberal site Think Progress looks into his support of outlawing contraception.

Photo: NYT

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Growth Club prez voted for earmark too

Published by Tim McNulty on .

As we told you this morning, the conservative Club For Growth and its president Chris Chocola are going after Rep. Tim Murphy in two new ads hitting the Upper St. Clair Republican on a pro-union vote and another on earmarks -- specifically the latter is on a transportation bill funding the Alaska "Bridge to Nowhere" project so ridiculed in 2008.Chocola

The only problem? Chocola, formerly a congressman from Indiana, voted for the bill too. (It was House roll call #453 from July 2005, which passed 412-8. See it here.)

The club's spokesman, Barney Keller, responded that Murphy's the one running for reelection, not Chocola:

"Last time I checked, Chris Chocola wasn’t running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District," Keller said in an email. "Tim Murphy and his allies are clearly desperate to distract from his liberal record and his support for wasteful spending and the big-labor power grab known as “card-check.” The purpose of these ads is pretty simple: prompt Tim Murphy’s constituents to ask “why’d he do that?”

Photo: Chris Chocola/Club For Growth

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Welch loans $1M to Senate run

Published by Tim McNulty on .

GOP U.S. Senate candidate Steve Welch's campaign announced this morning that the Chester County businessman has loaned himself $1 million in cash heading toward April's primary. Since mid-October the campaign has raised another $125,000. (Welch is one of nine candidates still in the race, and is expected to be among the best-funded, along with fellow businessmen Tom Smith and Tim Burns.)

"With his fundraising infrastructure now in place, including announced Western PA and Eastern PA Finance Chairmen, Steve Welch clearly will have the financial resources to win the GOP nomination and defeat Bob Casey in November 2012," a campaign statement says.

Full statement from the campaign after the jump:

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Campaign Journal: W. Des Moines, IA

Published by Laura Olson on .

Happy Caucus Day here in Iowa! With the main event not until 7 p.m. CST, there's still time for a few final events. 

rockthevoteI'm at Valley High School in West Des Moines, a large suburban school hosting a "Rock the Vote" rally this morning.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, former U.S. Rick Santorum and several of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's sons are expected to address the students.

10 a.m. - U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, with two of her daughters, welcomes the students back from Christmas break. She runs through her background, before asking for a show of hands of who is 18 years old. (17-year-olds also can vote if they'll be 18 by the November general election.)

"The United States is the most expensive place to do business if you're a job creator ... I want to abolish the tax code so that you can wildly succeed," she said. "I want a future for you, I want you to succeed."

10:10 a.m. - The Iowa Democratic Party chairwoman also is here (yup, they're caucusing too), urging students to start a habit of voting by turning out this evening.

The first student I talked to, 17-year-old Shraddha Bhtra, said she'll be heading to a Democratic caucus tonight even though there's no balloting there. "He doesn't have an opponent, but it's still important to go support President Obama," Shraddha said.

10:30 p.m. - Tagg Romney, Mitt's oldest son, talks about jobs and debt to the high-school audience. "How much interest are you going to be paying off to afford the borrowing of the previous generation?" he asks.

Tagg continues, saying Obama is "in over his head." Contrasts Obama to his father's business background, work running Salt Lake City Olympics, governorship of Massachusetts. 

Tells anecdote about father wanting to build a fence, being shocked by the cost, and enlisting his sons and wife to help instead over six Saturdays. "He wanted us to learn about hard work," Tagg says.

10:47 a.m. - Santorum has six of his seven children on stage with him, and was followed in by the largest set of cameras so far.

"Every generation of leaders has an obligation to pass along something to the next generation that his great," he says. "This is an important time for our country."

Tells about father leaving Italy during Mussolini's reign, came to Pennsylvania coal mines. "That's what America always stood for - that bottom-up, entrepreneurial spirit," Santorum says. "Unfortunately, some in America - and one in the White House - that don't believe that anymore."

Asks them to look for the candidate who believes in country's founding principles, urges them to hold their representatives accountable (and to read the news ... thanks Rick!). "Hold those candidates accountable to dealing with the systemic problems of a government that is doing more and more and giving you less and less freedom," he says. 

11 a.m. - Final headliner is Ron Paul, giving an intense lecture on government debt, individual liberties, and monetary policy. Gets his main audience reactions when talking foreign policy: getting congressional permission for war and "minding our own business."

"We have failed because we've said the government can take care of us," Paul says "The government is us. And now we don't have the jobs, we don't have the prosperity.

He continued: "If you have a free society and sound money, the prosperity will come."

As he ends, one student shouts, "Go Ron Paul!" He turns and waives, before walking off stage.

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O'Connor casts deciding prez vote

Published by Tim McNulty on .

coreythanks

We said all eyes would be on Corey O'Connor today and sure enough they were -- he cast the deciding 5th vote to make (former mayoral rival?) Darlene Harris city council president again. In a 6-3 vote, only Bruce Kraus (whom Bill Peduto nominated to oppose her), voted against Harris along with Peduto and Natalia Rudiak.

That means there could be a veto-proof 6 votes in support of Ravenstahl -- if today's bloc holds, which is a big if -- comprised of Ricky Burgess, Patrick Dowd, Daniel Lavelle, Harris, O'Connor, and Theresa Kail Smith.

UPDATE 11:05 am. O'Connor says he's engaged to be married. Popped question yesterday. Notes his nephew Bobby -- born six days after his father died in 2006 -- is in the crowd.

Screenshot below: From left: O'Connor's fiancee Katie Stohlberg (we'll get her name later); his sister Heidy Garth and her husband Rich; and (foreground) Bill Peduto.

oconnorinaugural

UPDATE 11:54 a.m. From Joe Smydo:

Mrs. Harris named Mr. Peduto chairman of human resources, considered one of the less prestigious posts.   She reappointed Mr. Kraus to public works, Ms. Rudiak to performance and asset management, Mr. Dowd to intergovernmental affairs and Ms. Kail-Smith to public safety. She appointed Mr. Lavelle to land use and economic development and Mr. O’Connor to urban recreation.