Meet the GOP Candidates: Rick Santorum

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Meet the GOP Candidates: Rick Santorum

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In preparation for Saturday's Nevada Republican Caucus, KUNR's Kate McGee looks at each GOP candidate coming to the Silver State and their chances of victory in the first Republican race in the West.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is known mostly for his conservative views on social issues, like abortion and gay marriage, but in a phone interview with Santorum's Nevada State Director David McGowan, he pushed Santorum's views on smaller government.

"If you look at his record in the House and Senate, he was the one that came up with the Spend-o-meter to track the Senate's spending. He's just as much a fiscal conservative as he is a social conservative," McGowan said.


Nevada has the highest unemployment rate (12.5%) and foreclosure rate (1 in every 177 homes) in the country, which has been a concern for Republicans and Democrats in the state. Many conservatives, like Washoe County Republican Chairman David Buell, said voters are focused on the economy this election season.

"Rick Santorum pushes the social issues more than anybody issues, "Buell said. "I don't think people really see the financial issues with Rick Santorum as much as they see with the other three candidates."

Historically, Nevada has been more of a fiscally conservative state, rather than a sociall conservative state, according to Political Science Professor Fred Lokken at Truckee Meadows Community College.

There's only a handful of socially conservative states in the United States. That's why he[Santorum] played well in South Carolina. But it probably was his one moment," Lokken said.

However, Lokken says Santorum's main issue on Saturday will be that he didn't campaign much in the Silver State before this week.

"Caucuses...are designed to reduce down the number of candidates and give one candidate a momentum that leads to the nomination. It's going to be very difficult to be a Santorum backer. There's no party organization and there's not going to be much of a Santorum presence," Lokken said.

Santorum opened a campaign office in Las Vegas on Saturday, where he is attending a Florida primary results-watching party Tuesday evening. Before that, he did not have any ground operations in place in Nevada.

While some see that as a white flag, McGowan says the campaign is still confident Santorum's conservative message will get across to voters.


"We were competing against Governor Romney who has been in the state since 2008. So, obviously, we're going to have some catching up to do," McGowan said. "But if you've looked at the last few races, they've changed so much in the last few days. It's like the last ten minutes of a football game. Everyone focuses and makes decisions."


Jeri Taylor-Swade, with the Tea Party and Reuniting Nevada Conservatives, says she doesn't begrudge Santorum for not campaigning a lot.

"We all know that he doesn't have the money that the other candidates have, and people understand that." she said.

According to the Associated Press, aides to Santorum say he has just over one million dollars in the bank right now.


Although Romney and Paul have the largest presence in the state, Buell and Taylor-Swade agree there are still many undecided GOP voters. Taylor-Swade says she called about 30 Republicans throughout the state to caucus this weekend and found many voters were still on the fence.

"Every single person we talked to was undecided at that moment," she said. "This is not a locked-up game as everybody says."

The Tea Party and Reuniting Nevadan Conservatives hosted a meet-and-greet with Rick Santorum Tuesday, but leaders have not officially endorsed a candidate.

Professor Lokken predicts Mitt Romney and Ron Paul will capture 80 percent of the vote on Saturday. He says if Santorum can get 15 percent it will show a legitimate following in the party, but he predicts Santorum will only get eight percent.

All four candidates will be in the Silver State throughout the week.

Ron Paul is heading to Las Vegas and Elko before coming to Reno for a rally on Thursday evening.

Newt Gingrich will also visit Las Vegas, as well as Reno and Carson City. Gingrich has barely visited the state since he launched his presidential campaign, but his top financial supporter is casino titan Sheldon Adelson, who owns the Venitian and Palazzo hotels on the Las Vegas Strip.

Mitt Romney has also made tentative plans to visit the Silver State before Saturday.

On Wednesday afternoon, we'll focus on Newt Gingrich's campaign in Nevada.