published Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum tells Dalton he leads on every social issue


by Chris Carroll
Rick Santorum speaks during a rally at the Dalton City Hall early Thursday to raise support for his presidential campaign.
Rick Santorum speaks during a rally at the Dalton City Hall early Thursday to raise support for his presidential campaign.
Photo by Dan Henry.

DALTON, Ga. -- Ducking the backlash from some of his recent headline-grabbing statements, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum stuck to conservative talking points and his GOP rivals in a Thursday morning campaign event.

"It's one thing to be pro-life, pro-family, pro-marriage ... it's one thing to vote that way," the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania told about 200 people at Dalton City Hall. "But I've led on every single moral and cultural issue. Every one of them."

A few seats and plenty of standing room were available inside the City Council chamber when Santorum began speaking a little after 8:30 a.m. Organizers blamed the somewhat-subdued crowd on the time of the speech, which hastily was announced less than 24 hours before it happened.

Billed as "Rally for Rick," the only standing ovation occurred at the end, and the event often took the form of a lecture with almost no audience response.

Santorum did not take questions from the crowd as promised by the campaign, but he mingled and posed for pictures with supporters for about 20 minutes after the speech.

A SurveyUSA poll shows Santorum trailing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich by 15 percentage points in Gingrich's home state of Georgia. But Tennessee appears to be friendlier territory with Santorum holding a 2-to-1 advantage over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the Volunteer State, according to a Vanderbilt University poll released this week.

In Dalton a day after appearing at Belmont University in Nashville, Santorum made no mention of recently calling President Barack Obama a "snob" for wanting every American child to go to college.

Obama and several Republican governors this week rebuked Santorum, saying the "snob" comment went too far and could discourage children from staying in school.

But in a brief phone interview Thursday with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Santorum stood by his remarks.

"It's the elitists telling everybody what they think is best for them," he said. "They eliminate our freedom. I stand by that, and I also stand by the fact that, while we certainly want to encourage people to go to college ... people should go and get the skills that they need, and there's a lot of skills that can be upgraded that don't mean going to a four-year college."

Santorum has a bachelor's degree from Pennsylvania State University, a law degree from the Dickinson School of Law and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Pittsburgh.

In Tennessee, 21 percent of the state's 25-and-over population had earned at least a bachelor's degree -- 42nd place in the United States, according to a 2007 U.S. Census Bureau study.

Georgia's numbers are better. About 27 percent of the 25-and-over set hold a bachelor's degree, making the Peach State the 23rd most-educated state, the study showed.

Corinna Fromm, a 50-year-old homemaker from Calhoun, Ga., brought four of her seven children to Santorum's Dalton speech. She clapped extra hard when Santorum introduced his oldest daughter, Elizabeth, as his own family's "guinea pig" for home-schooling, which he referred to as "customized education."

"We home-school, and we think Santorum is a good candidate for this election based on family values," she said. "It's an incredible opportunity we didn't want to miss."

Mark Frankenberger, a 51-year-old salesman from Dalton, said he was "a Gingrich man" until Thursday morning, but Santorum's conservative speech changed his mind. Still, he said, he'll vote for the eventual GOP nominee, even if that ends up being "the phony" Romney.

"When it comes down to it, bottom line, I don't care," he said. "I'd vote for your dog if it got Obama out of office."

Georgia, Tennessee and eight other states host presidential primaries Tuesday, and the Chattanooga area has been a popular spot for the GOP hopefuls seeking to bolster their support in the South.

Gingrich appeared in Chattanooga and Dalton on Tuesday, while Santorum spoke at Southern Baptist megachurch Abba's House on Saturday in Hixson. Gingrich and Romney's wife, Ann, headlined events in Atlanta on Thursday.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul hasn't scheduled anything local to this point.

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