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Beer, bowling key to Rick Santorum's uphill battle in Wisconsin

March 25, 2012|By Michael Finnegan
  • Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum plays shuffleboard after a news conference in Green Bay, Wis.
Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick… (Jae C. Hong / AP Photo )

Reporting from Green Bay, Wisc. —

Even before his victory in the Louisiana primary on Saturday, the map of states won by Rick Santorum covered a huge expanse of the nation’s midsection, from the Deep South to the Canadian border, from the Appalachians to the Rockies.

His main target now is Wisconsin, and Santorum’s pitch here is largely cultural: I’m like you.

To celebrate his landslide win in Louisiana, Santorum joined supporters at a Green Bay tavern, where he drank Dark Helmet Schwartzbier with his burger and fries. For good measure, Santorum played a few rounds of shuffleboard, hamming it up with playful shouts of “It’s getting nasty now,” and “Whoa, did you see that?”

The brewery party came a few hours after Santorum’s visit to a Wisconsin bowling alley, an exploit he gladly shared Sunday morning with a national television audience to explain his larger point.

“I actually was bowling in Sheboygan yesterday with a bunch of folks at a tournament and threw three strikes in a row,” the former Pennsylvania senator said on “Face the Nation.” “That’s a ‘turkey.’ That tells you that you’ve got someone here who can relate to the voters of Wisconsin, just like those of us in western Pennsylvania who grew up in the bowling lanes.”

If CBS had given him a little more time, it’s a safe bet that Santorum would have mentioned how exhilarating it felt to visit Lambeau Field, the home of Wisconsin’s beloved Green Bay Packers.

Poll after poll has found voter doubts about whether Santorum’s chief rival, Mitt Romney, understands the economic struggles of average Americans. In case anyone missed that Santorum’s main point in styling himself as a blue-collar everyman was to stoke those doubts, he branded the former Massachusetts governor as a “financier from Wall Street” at a stop in Milwaukee on Saturday. Romney’s campaign called the label an “assault on free enterprise.”

Romney, a Harvard-educated former corporate takeover executive who reported nearly $21 million in income last year, has often fueled impressions that he is out of touch with the middle class, despite painstaking attempts to prove otherwise. Romney challenged former rival Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet, told a crowd in Detroit that his wife drives two Cadillacs and mentioned at the Daytona 500 that some friends own NASCAR teams.

Santorum is not exactly poor. From 2007 to 2010, he and his wife, Karen, reported gross annual income ranging from $659,000 to $1.1 million. In his 16 years as a U.S. senator and member of the House, Santorum was a certified member of the Washington elite.

But his roots were more humble, as he has reminded crowds in Wisconsin. “Look, I come from southwestern Pennsylvania,” he told a crowd Saturday in Bellevue, Wis. “I grew up in a mill town.”

As luck would have it, Santorum was in the middle of his burger and fries Saturday night when Romney called to congratulate him for winning Louisiana.

Surrounded by TV cameras, Santorum told his rival that he would be joining him in California in the days ahead to raise money – a crucial task at a time when Romney and his allies are strafing him with unanswered attack ads in every corner of Wisconsin.

“Probably not as much fundraising as you are,” Santorum told Romney. “But a little fundraising for us. So good luck to you, and thank you so much for calling, Mitt.”

A while later, after his last round of shuffleboard, Santorum raised his glass of dark lager and joined the crowd in singing, “Roll Out the Barrel.”

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Original source: Beer and bowling key to Santorum's uphill battle in Wisconsin

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