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Santorum fails to bag endorsement from Iowa's King

December 26, 2011|By Robin Abcarian
(Chris Carlson/AP )

Reporting from Adel, Iowa — It was a ringing non-endorsement on a surprisingly slow news day here, considering the first votes of the 2012 presidential cycle are to be cast in a week. Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, the only candidate in the state today, went pheasant hunting with Iowa U.S. Rep. Steve King, an evangelical conservative. The former Pennsylvania senator killed some black pheasant and quail but failed to bag the endorsement of the influential Republican leader.

In the late afternoon, they emerged from a convoy of trucks to face a cluster of reporters looking for something, anything that would constitute news, and offered, basically, nothing.

Although Santorum is one of the most conservative candidates in the race, King said he has not yet made up his mind about whom to support. Santorum said he was OK with that. Perhaps it was enough for Santorum to know that the evening news would feature images of him standing in a National Rifle Assn. hat next to King, an ardent 2nd Amendment supporter in a state that frets about the erosion of gun rights.

“I invited Steve to come out and hunt,” Santorum said. “I almost consider myself a resident here, so it’s sort of a neighborly thing to do. I am happy Steve is here.”

Of all the candidates seeking the nomination, Santorum has spent the most time here, visiting all 99 counties and conducting town hall meetings in front of crowds as sparse as two or three people. Yet he continues to lag in the polls and fundraising, and he has been unable to win the broad support of the considerable evangelical Christian base in the state. (Iowans expect a candidate to visit the state constantly, but they don’t always reward immersion. Four years ago, Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd moved his entire family to Des Moines weeks before the caucuses and finished in sixth place.)

Asked how he would define “winning,” Santorum said, “It’s exceeding expectations.”

He said his view of the contest in Iowa is that there are three primary races being fought simultaneously. “There’s the libertarian primary, which Ron Paul’s gonna win. Then you got the moderate primary, which [Newt] Gingrich and [Mitt] Romney are scrumming for. And you got three folks who are running as strong conservatives,” he said, referring to himself, Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. “I think if we win that primary we are in very good shape.”

Last week, Santorum was endorsed by another influential evangelical leader, Bob Vander Plaats, but the endorsement immediately generated controversy when it was reported that Vander Plaats sought money in exchange for his support. Vander Plaats said he asked for money to help spread word of the endorsement and denied it was a quid pro quo. Santorum said he was happy for the endorsement and read nothing sinister into the request for money. “It was a factual statement. If you are gonna endorse somebody, you want to make sure your endorsements gets out there.”

Santorum, in a neon orange shirt and vest, stood on the porch of a hunting shack at Doc’s Hunt Club perched over a field of wheat colored grass. As geese flew in formation against a sinking sun, the former Pennsylvania senator said he brought his teenage son, John, hunting for the first time. John bagged the first bird, Santorum said, and many others.

“I got four clean kills,” Santorum said.

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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