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Daily Santorum: Ethanol, God, Iowa

Published by Daniel Malloy on .

OSKALOOSA, Iowa -- Steve Boender and his five sons farm a great deal of corn and soybeans along a gravel road in southeastern Iowa. The exact acreage he will not reveal, but the nice-sized house and grounds -- which played host to Rick Santorum and about 50 Boender family and friends Tuesday -- suggests a large number.

Iowa corn farmers have enjoyed nice subsidies to turn their crops into ethanol fuel, but the program is under attack in Congress and has become a big issue in the presidential campaign. Half a country away from here Tuesday, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman was announcing his candidacy but has said he will not compete in Iowa because his opposition to ethanol will torpedo his chances. Santorum disagrees, and he again reiterated his support for a five-year phase-out of the subsidies as townsfolk munched on fruit salad. And their corn-growing host was unoffended.

"I am a firm believer in alternative fuels, but I am totally OK with them getting to the point where they can stand on their own,” said Boender, 54.

santorumshakeOskaloosa was the second stop on Santorum's packed Tuesday schedule that began with meeting with Republicans in the Des Moines state house and included hanging with tea partiers in speck-on-the-map Creston and a house party to end the day in Council Bluffs on the Nebraska border. The Creston event was run by the Iowa Tea Party's bus tour, with a stilted vibe to it as Santorum and a rotating cast of hosts spoke to a webcam and took questions from the audience and Internet activists. The bus tour organizers easily outnumbered actual attendees at a local coffee shop (Santorum shown, via Malloy BlackBerry, enjoying a milkshake in the shop and chatting with reporters).

The odd format did bring some non-stump lines from Santorum, though. He told a local body shop owner curious about more aid for small businesses that "I'm not going to stand here and say I'm going to help you," but said business as a whole would do better with the lower taxes and lighter regulations he's promising.

Asked about so-called activist judges Santorum said he led the fight for conservative judicial nominations in the Senate and said it is important for the judiciary not to become superior in power to the other two branches of government. "We see no judicial restraint," he said. He proposed that Congress, since it has the power to manage the judiciary, do away with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals -- a California-based court many conservatives believe is far too liberal -- by partitioning it into different districts and appointing new judges. (He has said this before.)

He never gave the same speech twice, but Santorum always emphasized his family. In Council Bluffs, after a nice introduction from influential religious conservative Steve Scheffler, Santorum dished out a generous helping of religion, from his JFK speech on faith in the public square to the revelation that he didn't say the word "abortion" in Congress for the first five years of his tenure because he was afraid of being branded. But now he's not bashful in saying God is in the driver's seat: "I serve a constituency of one."

He strives not to be seen as just the Religious Right guy, but it plays well here. In fact after the skattershot tea party interview, 34-year-old Stacie West, of Cromwell (population: 147), said, "I wanted to hear more about his ideas on social issues."

For Santorum, that might be a first.

Schedule: He's in Texas today, but no public schedule so far, which means he's probably raising money.

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