Values voters with big families favor Santorum

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LEXINGTON, S.C. If children could vote, Rick Santorum would have it made.

Drop by one of his campaign stops, and it’s easy to spot a core base of support for the GOP presidential candidate: conservative Christian families with six, 10 or even more children - often home-schooled - who care deeply about abortion and parental rights.

Last week, as Mr. Santorum was running late en route to Hudson's Smokehouse outside Columbia, Jim Bob Duggar of TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” and a handful of his home-schooled children performed gospel music and asked the crowd for “testimonies” of why they are supporting Mr. Santorum.

Zach Bates, a friend of the Duggars and the eldest of 19 children, took the microphone to say he decided to support Mr. Santorum after praying about it.

Peggy Trent, there with five of her eight children, stood up and encouraged the crowd to support “somebody that stands for what God believes is right,” and she feels Mr. Santorum is that person.

As he balanced one of his 10 children on his hip, home-schooling father Dave Wilson said Mr. Santorum “stands up for what we as Christians believe.”

These families feel a deep connection with Mr. Santorum, not just because he has seven children, but because of what his family size says about his values.

“One of the things that kind of caught our eye with Rick was the size of his family,” Mr. Wilson told The Washington Times. “You don’t have a family of seven kids and not have something that’s core behind it, and so when we started taking a look at his record, then we were able to turn around and say, ‘This is the guy who most reflects us.’ “

When Mr. Santorum arrived, 30 minutes later than scheduled, he explained to the crowd that his 20-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, had a flat tire.

He often shows up at events with several of his own children in tow. In Iowa, the six eldest campaigned with him leading up to the Iowa caucuses, leaving at home only the youngest, Bella, who suffers from a life-threatening genetic disorder.

Big year for big families

Mr. Santorum’s crew is the largest among the GOP candidates in a year of big families. Mitt Romney and his wife have five sons, who occasionally stump with him. Rep. Ron Paul has five children, 18 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and occasionally brings them on campaign stops.

Newt Gingrich, who had two prominent divorces, regularly brings his third wife, Callista, to campaign with him, and has strategically deployed his two daughters from his first marriage to bolster his campaign.

Mr. Gingrich has been vying with Mr. Santorum for the allegiance of voters like the Duggars. But as in the larger conservative Christian community, home-schooling leaders say they don’t see home-schoolers uniting behind one particular candidate, like in past years.

Many favor Mr. Santorum. But others, such as home-schooling pioneer Mary Pride, are frustrated that Mr. Paul isn’t getting more attention.

“This time, Santorum is the Huckabee who has swept in and creamed off the home-schoolers before people have had a chance to look at Ron Paul and see what he’s saying,” said Mrs. Pride, editor of the magazine Practical Homeschooling and a mother of 10. “The media has cast Ron Paul as eccentric, just as the media has cast home-schoolers as eccentric.”

Home schooling has evolved far beyond its origins as a fringe movement in the 1980s, gaining a particular foothold among conservative, church-going and often large families.

Many of these voters see Mr. Santorum and his wife, Karen - who are pro-life, advocate traditional marriage, are devoted Catholics and home-school their children - as one of their own. Now that conservatives Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry aren’t competing for their votes, Mr. Santorum is trying to cash in.

Rallying behind Santorum

The former senator from Pennsylvania has made some headway by winning an endorsement last week from James Dobson, the influential founder of Focus on the Family. The support of Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader, helped propel him to a last-minute victory in Iowa.

Mike Farris, founder and chairman of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, has all but endorsed Mr. Santorum and commends him to voters for “his defense of life, marriage and the rights of parents.” In the 2008 primaries, Mr. Farris endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Santorum and Huckabee are the only two candidates we’ve had for president since 1980 that the moral social issues were at their core,” Mr. Farris told The Washington Times.

Mr. Santorum also has been joined on the campaign trail by the Duggar family, whose TV show has made Jim Bob and his wife, Michelle, famous for their rejection of birth control in favor of leaving their family size up to God.

Both families home-school and both have dealt with miscarriages in similar ways.

When Michelle recently lost their 20th child, the family held a memorial service for the fetus, whom they named Jubilee Shalom. After Karen miscarried Gabriel in 1996, she published a book of letters to the fetus.

Members of the Duggar family stumped with Mr. Santorum in Iowa and again in South Carolina as the candidate enthusiastically pitched his Christian credentials to voters.

“He is pro-life, pro-gun, pro-traditional marriage and for less government control and lower taxes and we are totally behind him 100 percent,” said Jill Duggar, the fourth-eldest Duggar child.

The family had just finished performing “This Land Is Your Land” and “Amazing Grace” on their guitars and fiddles for a crowd of voters and reporters gathered in front of Hudson's Smokehouse. Parents with strollers and dozens of children crowded around the edges of the room.

“There’s those of us who jokingly say we’re trying to build the conservative movement one voter at a time,” Dave Wilson said.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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