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Rick Santorum gets an assist from the Duggar family in Iowa

January 02, 2012|By Robin Abcarian
  • The Duggar family campaigned through Iowa for Rick Santorum in this bus Monday.
The Duggar family campaigned through Iowa for Rick Santorum in this bus… (Robin Abcarian / Los Angeles…)

Unlike 2008, when tough guy action star Chuck Norris campaigned in Iowa for Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee, and assorted stars came out for Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, fixtures from the celebrity firmament have been noticeably absent from Iowa this year.

Until today.

Sort of.

As Rick Santorum made his final argument to Iowa Republicans, he was joined by about half of reality television's Duggar family, who star in the TLC show "19 and Counting," about a devoutly Christian clan notable for their exceptional fecundity.

About 45 minutes north of Des Moines, at Santorum's third campaign stop of the day, patriarch Jim Bob Duggar entered a crowded Pizza Ranch restaurant, looking a bit like a drake with his ducklings trailing behind.

With Santorum running 15 minutes late for his 2 p.m. stop, Duggar filled some time, telling regular Iowans, who were outnumbered by members of the media, that he is endorsing the former Pennsylvania senator, despite the fact that the Duggars live in Arkansas and cannot vote in the Iowa caucus.

"He's somebody that doesn't take a poll to know where he stands," said Duggar, who emphasized Santorum's antiabortion credentials. "I'm asking families, Christians all over American to get behind Rick Santorum for the next president of the United States."

Duggar said four years ago, he asked Mitt Romney to explain why there was a $50 co-pay included in his Massachusetts healthcare plan for women seeking abortions.

"He would not answer me," said Duggar. "He walked away and got in his bus." He urged reporters to ask Romney whether he had tried to repeal  that aspect of the Massachusetts healthcare law.

By contrast, said Duggar, Santorum co-sponsored a bill to ban so-called partial birth abortions when he was in the U.S. Senate.

"You're not going to find the perfect candidate unless it's Jesus Christ," Duggar said.

About half the Duggar children were with their father, while their mother, Michelle, who recently suffered the miscarriage of her 20th child, stayed home and recorded a robocall for Santorum.

Holding her five-month-old nephew Michael, 14-year-old Joy Duggar said she and 11 other Duggar kids, plus their dad and 15 other friends, including some from Indonesia, arrived Sunday evening in their big touring bus. On New Year's Eve, said Jim Bob Duggar, some of his kids had stayed up til 5 am. painting the bus with Santorum's name and website (though on one door, Santorum's name was badly misspelled).

Santorum has been campaigning in Iowa on a shoestring and is proud of the fact that -- unlike the other candidates -- he has no costly campaign bus, or a press bus following along. For that matter, he has no entourage to speak of either -- just Chuck Laudner, the Republican activist here who drives Santorum in his pickup truck. (Today, however, he was joined by his wife and several of his 7 children, plus a trio of plainclothes security guards to ward off potential disruptions by Occupy protesters, who have vowed to disrupt GOP candidates in their final push.)

This morning, Laudner said, when the Duggars' "Santorum" bus pulled up, Santorum thought it was a campaign vehicle.

"I'm not paying for that!" he exclaimed.

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