published Friday, February 17th, 2012

Chattanooga Tea Party lures presidential candidate Rick Santorum for Liberty Forum


by Chris Carroll
Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum holds a piece of oil-rich shale rock from North Dakota while speaking at an Economic Club of Detroit luncheon in Detroit.
Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum holds a piece of oil-rich shale rock from North Dakota while speaking at an Economic Club of Detroit luncheon in Detroit.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO


• What: Chattanooga Tea Party Liberty Forum featuring GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum

• Where: Abba's House, 5208 Hixson Pike

• When: Feb. 25, from 1-4 p.m.

• Cost: None

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum will visit Chattanooga next week, just 10 days before Tennessee's March 6 "Super Tuesday" primary.

Santorum will headline the Chattanooga Tea Party's Liberty Forum on Feb. 25 at Abba's House in Hixson.

The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania has surged recently in national and state polls. Santorum hat-tricked elections in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri one day last week, and a recent poll shows him beating Mitt Romney in Tennessee by seven percentage points.

However, he wasn't the local tea party's first choice.

"I think generally what we've seen is there's no perfect candidate," Chattanooga Tea Party President Mark West said, "but at this point we feel -- well, many of us feel -- that Rick Santorum most closely aligns with our values."

Communications with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich fell through, and officials also approached Rick Perry's staff before the Texas governor quit the race in January, he said.

"None of the others ever came through. ... Santorum was the first to say, 'Yes, we're there,'" West said.

On the campaign trail, Santorum has preached fiscal responsibility like other tea party-friendly GOP contenders. He is also known for his social views.

In a 2003 interview he mentioned homosexuality in the same breath as "man on dog" and "man on child," and he's staunchly anti-abortion, including when rape or incest is involved.

West attempted to bridge those positions with the tea party's limited-government goals.

"We can't legislate in terms of behavior in the bedroom. Certainly we understand that," West said. "But we must lead by example."

West said more than 20 elected officials and candidates have said they will attend the three-hour forum.

Not everyone is thrilled with Santorum's appearance. Daniel Wahlen, a film student at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, quickly organized a Facebook event called "Protest Santorum -- Idiocy + Bigotry in Chattanooga."

"The Chattanooga Tea Party has senselessly invited the worst presidential candidate in history to our wonderful city to speak on his warped view of American fascism," Wahlen wrote. "Please join the protest against the government regulating social law and plunging our country into ... social 'values' no one should enforce."

Santorum isn't the first presidential candidate to visit the Scenic City.

Democratic candidate John Edwards and GOP hopeful Mike Huckabee visited Chattanooga in 2008, and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, a Democrat, stopped by the Scenic City in 2004. President George W. Bush's latest appearance here came in 2007.

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