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The Strange Sticking Power of Rick Santorum

Mitt, money, Christians and rage.  That list just about sums up the deciding factors in the GOP presidential race Super Tuesday, at least in the view of the pundits.

“What is wrong with Romney? He’s just not connecting!”

After an hour of insights like that from MSNBC, CNN and Fox, I headed to bed, even before “more number crunching by our experts” and “How Sarah Palin cast her vote!”

What explains the surprising strength of Rick Santorum in the GOP primary race? While everyone rightly bemoans the power of money in politics, it doesn’t seem to be about the money.  Santorum’s holding steady despite being radically outspent.  In the run up to Super Tuesday, Governor Romney’s side reportedly spent eleven times as much as their opponent on Super PAC attack ads. It’s not democratic, it’s stirring up random rage, but it’s not working all that brilliantly. All that cash, and Romney only won Ohio by a sliver.

The Christians then. On Tuesday night, Michael Moore wasn’t the only one warning of a Santorum crusade. The Christian Right have often been good at running effective ground operations at low cost and there’s no denying the evil aims of Santorum’s anti-pill pals. But the Christian Right is not the political power it once was and Santorum’s machine is not so slick, certainly not in Ohio. There, Santorum’s lot couldn’t even meet the deadlines to register a full slate of delegates across the state. So what oh what, oh what could explain the strange sticking power of Rick Santorum?

As they exited polling stations across Ohio, more than half of all voters told pollsters the economy was their biggest concern. Could it be that, just down the road, the shuttered stores on Main Street have something to do with it?

Employment’s up slightly in Ohio this year. Statewide unemployment sits officially at a relatively low 7.7 percent (compared to the national rate.)  But shocks like the ones that hit Ohio, North Dakota and the other Super Tuesday states over the last decade are still very much in evidence. Look back to the last presidential election, and the Democratic candidates were vying for the nomination across a landscape peppered with shuttered factories from Youngstown to Toledo. Ohio lost a chilling 257,600 manufacturing jobs – roughly a quarter of all such jobs — in NAFTA’s wake and the trade pact punched North Dakota farmers in the gut too.

A big part of how Obama gained support in states like these was his pledge to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. (Although in office, he quickly jettisoned all that talk and signed more, similar pacts.)  Rick Santorum for all his sins, has the advantage of actually having voted against NAFTA.

I know it’s not as ratings-friendly as his position on sex, (and it’s an awkward topic for networks owned by multinational corporations,) but in all those hours of so-called reporting, it would have been interesting to hear the word, even once. Among white voters in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and across the manufacturing belt,  Santorum has one hell of a stick he could use to beat both Obama and Romney. Whether he’s using it is surely as newsworthy as how Sarah Palin’s voting.  Or is it?

LAURA FLANDERS is the host of The Laura Flanders Show coming to public television stations later this year. She was the host and founder of GRITtv.org. Follow her on Twitter: @GRITlaura. 

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Laura Flanders interviews forward-thinking people about the key questions of our time on The Laura Flanders Show, a nationally syndicated radio and television program also available as a podcast. A contributing writer to The Nation, Flanders is also the author of six books, including The New York Times best-seller, BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species.  She is the recipient of a 2019 Izzy Award for excellence in independent journalism, the Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award for advancing women’s and girls’ visibility in media and a 2020 Lannan Cultural Freedom Fellowship for her reporting and advocacy for public media. lauraflanders.org

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