Note: Elizabeth Santorum has joined our Green Room team as an occasional contributor. We look forward to her perspective this season as a political observer and analyst. Be sure to keep an eye out for more. Today, Elizabeth discusses her experiences on the campaign trail as an introduction — Ed.
“How on earth did you guys almost pull that off?”
I answer this question multiple times a day. The people who ask this are referring to the fact that my Dad won eleven states, over 900 counties, with over three million votes cast for him. He was Mitt Romney’s primary competition for the GOP nomination. There is often a certain sense of bewilderment when they ask this, but also of respect or even admiration. And don’t worry. I get why this amazes them. Our campaign was overwhelmingly outspent in most states (sometimes more than 10 to 1), we didn’t have the organizational machine of the Romney camp, and we spent months of the race not getting any attention from the national media. In the fall, we were sitting at two percent in the polls and running a presidential campaign with a handful of incredible, dedicated staff and volunteers. So, is it shocking that we did what we did? Absolutely. Did I believe if anyone could make this happen, it would be my Dad? Yep. We overcame the odds in this race, which is similar to every race he’s won, beating democratic incumbents in the blue state of Pennsylvania.
“But how did you do it this time? What was your secret?”
I hear ya. I could talk about how we strategized about this or that, how we worked tirelessly, or how we stretched every dollar. Fundamentally, our success came down to three things: message, messenger and movement. These aspects are essential to every race that starts at the grassroots level.
A campaign is not simply platforms and policy; it needs a message that inspires people to act. My Dad traveled the country talking about a manufacturing plan to create jobs, a fiscal policy that would lead America to prosperity, ways to make us energy independent, the looming threat of a nuclear Iran, and the importance of the family. He also talked about the importance of our founding documents, that the loss of liberty was the fundamental issue of this race.
My Dad’s message excited the base of the party and spoke to a middle America that was hungry for, well, a kid from a steel town who knows how to work hard. He visited every county in Iowa before the caucus, worked nearly 24/7 with only five days off throughout the entire campaign, and held over 800 town hall meetings nation wide. Americans still value hard work and a real person who is courageous and honest.
With that type of a messenger, we began painting our vision for America. And as any good teacher will tell you, when you begin anything, you talk about what you know. So, we started our campaign out talking about our stories – our immigrant family, our vision for the country, how we got conservative things done in DC, and how we believe in the founding principles that made America great. Then something wonderful began to happen. Our supporters and volunteers believed in the message and that belief turned into action. Money can’t buy that type of genuine enthusiasm. The campaign became about the stories of all the people who came into our lives on this journey. A movement began.
In Iowa, a guy named Chuck volunteered to drive my Dad around to all of his events in a Dodge Ram pickup truck. Chuck is a straight shooting, salt of the earth guy who loves Iowa and its caucus. Even though he’s a top politico in the state, as he’s the former director of the state party, he put the rest of his life on hold to drive the Chuck Truck for our campaign. He believed we could pull off the impossible: a win in Iowa. Hundreds of miles later, his faith was rewarded.
Wendy Jensen was the smallest wisp of a woman with one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever known. In spite of her disability, she made over 5,000 phone calls for the campaign in Iowa and passed away right before caucus night. I know she’d be proud of what we all did, together, in Iowa. That night was for Wendy.
In Oklahoma, we met our best volunteer whose name was Nathanial. He had spina bifida. Nathanial made thousands of phone calls from home for the campaign. Yet as we thanked him for his huge contribution, he thanked us for representing his voice.
While in Missouri, a woman came up to my Dad after an event and handed him eight dollars. These were her daily tips from her job as a pet groomer. She told him this was her contribution to protect freedom.
For each of these stories there’s a thousand more. People all across the nation rose up and made big things happen. We even had a song written for us, called “Game On.”
I remember several months ago when a Romney surrogate claimed that all the significant Republicans in the country had spoken about who should be the GOP nominee. There was outrage among Republicans across America, especially among the half of the country who had not voted yet. A trend started on twitter, a hashtag that said #IAmSignificant. This went viral as everyday Americans “endorsed” my Dad for president because, after all, they were significant too. When I heard the comment myself, I couldn’t help but think of Chuck, Wendy, and Nathanial. To us, these everyday Americans were significant. In fact, they were invaluable.
So when people ask me how we ran a grassroots campaign for president and re-wrote the history books on how presidential races are run, well, the answer is simple: we did it together, against all the odds. But, who doesn’t like a good underdog story? Thank goodness for the Ricks, Rockys and Rudys of this world who remind us of what’s really significant and that all things are possible.
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