- - Tuesday, January 3, 2012


DES MOINES, Iowa — The reason that the overtly religious Rick Santorum has never been taken seriously as a presidential contender isn’t just because the media is made up of mainly Godless heathens. That, of course, is a large part of it, but not the whole reason.

The other big reason he has been written off from the start is that most political reporters have covered the former Pennsylvania senator in the Senate for the better part of a decade and have reached the conclusion that he is about as lovable as a porcupine with the charm of a possum. He is not your average back-slapping, jovial politician.

His back stiffens when he gets around people. His face appears to have been chiseled from flint. On the rare occasion he smiles, it always appears to be somewhat forced.

It gets worse when he is actually engaged by a reporter or even a voter. He will screw up his face in disdain or disbelief, cock his head to the side and will go on full attack over what he perceives as a skewed question or baseless observation.

He is a prickly pear in a super-slicked down, soft-ball profession. Mr. Santorum is also an entirely different type of political tactician.

Most politicians thrive on giving soft speeches with gauzy visions of happiness. They are related to the snake oil salesman or the used car salesman. President Obama was one of the best ever. Literally, there are still millions of people out there taking the snake oil he sold them and wondering why they aren’t getting better. Or they are still sitting on the side of the road in the broken down car he sold them jiggling the steering wheel as if it were still going.

That is not Rick Santorum. He does not offer rosy promises. Instead, he talks about fighting. And he talks about “truth.” Or he recites scripture from the Bible, usually the Old Testament. The motto emblazoned on his bus here in Iowa is: “Join the fight.”

All this pugnacious talk is the sort of thing that gives most politicians hives, especially at rallies, because it really is kind of a buzz-kill. It is SUCH a downer to talk about fighting when all the rest of the politicians just spew soothing false lullabies.

And as Mr. Santorum brings his campaigns to a close, it becomes pure vegetable politics. He scolds his supporters about what they need to do for victory. He chides them that they need to find five neighbors and drag each one to the polls. He tells them that whatever it is they are doing, they need to do twice as much.

All of this sounds like the recipe for pure electoral disaster in modern American politics, right? Or, maybe not.

As Mr. Santorum likes to point out on the stump, it is not hard to win elections running as a conservative in Texas or a liberal in Massachusetts. Mr. Santorum, on the other hand, won statewide election twice as a both a social and fiscal conservative in a solidly Democratic state.

When he finally did get beaten, it wasn’t by a liberal. He got beaten in a wave election by a Democrat who ran as a conservative in a state that is an absolute must-win for any Democrat seeking the White House. If Mr. Obama loses Pennsylvania, he loses the election.

In these deeply troubled times, voters appear especially attracted to Mr. Santorum’s mixture of raw honesty, serious demeanor and battle-ready politics. It might just be that the time of the porcupine has finally come.

Charles Hurt may be reached at [email protected]

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