MARQUETTE - On the eve of the Michigan presidential primary, Republican candidate Rick Santorum was expected to continue campaign stops downstate today, one day after he visited Marquette, trying a pasty, attending a Catholic mass and stumping before a crowd of more than 200 at the Holiday Inn.
Santorum's activities in Marquette Sunday blended his affinity for small town campaigning with spotlight issues of the national political stage. He told listeners they have a chance to set the Republican primary race "on its ear" Tuesday by handing him a victory over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
"You have an opportunity to vote and send a very clear and loud message from up here in the U.P. - good conservative country - and send a message as to what kind of president you want," Santorum said. "What kind of president you want to lead this country and the vision for this country."
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum displays a copy of the U.S. Constitution he keeps in his pocket as he speaks during a campaign rally at the Holiday Inn in Marquette on Sunday. The candidate also visited Lawry’s Pasty Shop and attended services at the St. Peter Cathedral in Marquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
In recent days, Santorum had been polling ahead of Romney, but in the wake of the last of 19 Republican candidate debates, the gap narrowed enough to call the race a dead heat by Sunday.
Romney, 64, who campaigned downstate over the weekend, is a Michigan native whose father, George W. Romney, was the state's governor from 1963-69. Many watchers think the race for the Republican nomination will be anything but certain if former frontrunner Romney loses his home state.
"You can tee it up right here in Michigan. You can change this race, right here in Michigan," Santorum said. "Very few states really get the opportunity to really shake things up."
Santorum, 53, won election to the U.S. House in 1990, representing the state of Pennsylvania. He subsequently won a U.S. Senate seat in 1994 and was re-elected six years later. In 2006, he was defeated by Democrat Bob Casey in his bid for a third term in the Senate.
Santorum made television appearances from Marquette Sunday on "Meet the Press" and "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," before making a planned stop along U.S. 41 to get something to eat and then attending mass at St. Peter Cathedral.
"I had a wonderful filling breakfast this morning at Lawry's Pasty Shop," Santorum later told the crowd packing a meeting room at the Holiday Inn. "I enjoyed the wonderful combination of a pasty and Heinz ketchup from Pittsburgh."
Santorum stood at a podium adorned with a red, white and blue elephant, on a raised platform at one end of the room. He was flanked by, "Don't Tread on Me" and "Join or Die" flags, with a Marquette County Republicans banner hanging behind the candidate, saying "Smaller Government, Personal Responsibility."
Marquette County Republican Party Chairman Dan Adamini introduced Santorum as "a man who knows you don't have to be politically correct to be correct."
Santorum joked about being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan in Green Bay Packers country. He said he recognized the Marquette area as similar to places near where he grew up in Pennsylvania known for mining, natural resources, timber and tourism, situated along a Great Lake.
"I feel a great connection to the people up here," Santorum said.
On the breaking news of continued flaring tensions and violence in Afghanistan over an apparent unintentional U.S. military burning of copies of the Quran, Santorum said: "This is what evil does when it seizes an opportunity to tell a lie about what's going on. Our country respects all religions, treats all religions with dignity."
Santorum criticized President Barack Obama on his handling of uprisings in the Middle East, domestic energy policy, Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, "Obamacare," the "phony science" of global warming and government regulations.
"We can do a lot of things here in America if we trust the American people, trust businesses, trust states to be able to do the things that are necessary," Santorum said. "Yeah, I know people up here in the U.P. care more about the environment here than the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., who are going to tell you how to regulate."
Santorum drew parallels between Romney and the president on Massachusetts' "Romneycare" as the blueprint for "Obamacare" and that state's health care law requiring Catholic hospitals to provide contraceptives, against tenets and teachings of the church.
"We need to win this race on sharp, clear differences, on someone who can paint a very different vision of this country and the important issues of the day," Santorum said.
At one point, Santorum pulled out his pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution stating: "This great document was here to protect those rights established in the Declaration of Independence," he said.
He added America, "the great experiment in free people," is about "trusting people to live good lives; trusting you instead of ordering and mandating you. That's the new vision for America."
Santorum said his campaign has been "a remarkable journey."
"One of the reasons I wanted to come up here in the U.P. is that we've run the kind of campaign that's, well let's say, non-traditional," he said. "We just don't go to the big cities we go to the little towns all over this state, all over this country."
Santorum visited all 99 counties in Iowa in 381 town hall meetings to help him win the Iowa caucus in January. He said he's done nearly 850 town hall meetings since the campaign began.
"We've just worked hard to talk to the people, to get an opportunity to talk to them and listen," Santorum said. "To go to the pasty shops and - now they don't have any pasty shops pretty much anywhere else that I'm aware of - but in settings like that."
He said coming to the region fits with making sure residents know they have a candidate who cares "about 100 percent of Americans and wants to hear from you."
Crowd questions focused on subjects ranging from military benefits, the minimum wage and activist judges to education, the Defense of Marriage Act and health care.
After the hourlong session, Santorum left for Sawyer International Airport to fly to an appearance in Traverse City.
"I've been asked many times, am I coming back," Santorum said. "Let me just say this, if we win Michigan, I'll be back."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.