Buoyant Santorum Takes Campaign To Texas — And Corrals Some Perry People | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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

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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 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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