Politics

02.20.12

Rick Santorum Goes After Obama in Feisty Georgia Speech

Acting like a true frontrunner, Rick riled up evangelicals in Georgia, comparing the next election to WWII. Patricia Murphy on the feisty additions to the nice guy’s stump speech. Plus, Santorum’s 10 most outrageous quotes.

The sweater vest was the same, as was most of the God-and-country stump speech. But at a megachurch deep in suburban Atlanta on Sunday night, a newly aggressive Rick Santorum lit into President Obama with the all of the fire of a bona fide GOP frontrunner for president.

Santorum was delivering his message to a group—and in a state—that will be key for both him and Newt Gingrich on Super Tuesday, when 10 states cast ballots in the GOP primary. Georgia, Gingrich’s home state, is the biggest of them all, with 76 delegates. In 2008 nearly three fourths of the state’s primary voters called themselves evangelical Christians.

At no time in his speech or the Q and A that followed did Santorum mention Mitt Romney, Gingrich, or Ron Paul, but his appearance made it clear that he has no plans to concede the state, or the South, to Gingrich on Super Tuesday or beyond.

That can’t come as good news to the former speaker, who is battling to take back the title of the conservative alternative to Romney. But even in Cumming, Ga., which sits in the middle of Gingrich’s old congressional district, Santorum drew a crowd 10 times the size of one Gingrich drew the day before just down the road.

“Barack Obama believes America is in need of great change,” Santorum said to the overflow crowd of 2,500. “He told you that. He meant it.”

Speaking for nearly an hour without notes, Santorum literally preached to the choir at Redeemer Church, holding forth about his own beliefs in life and liberty and warning about the fundamental threat to America that he said Barack Obama represents in all areas of people’s lives.

From health-care reform, which he said Obama had “shoved down America’s throats,” to the recent ruling on insurance coverage for contraception, which he gave as evidence that Obama is “hostile to faith,” Santorum warned that the country is under assault by “elite snobs who think they know better how to run your life.”

He also had harsh words for Obama on foreign policy, which he said was marked by mistreatment of America’s allies and appeasement of our enemies.

“He wants to take America’s friends and leave them out to dry and take our enemies and apologize,” he said, and added that Obama had “betrayed and weakened our alliance with Israel.”

Beyond the president’s policies, though, Santorum used stark language to describe the existential threat that he said the Obama administration poses to the country itself—one as dangerous as our enemies during World War II, but coming from within our borders, not from across the ocean. “Sometimes you have to ask the question, whose side is he on?” he said.

And just as the Greatest Generation was called to service, Santorum said, Americans need to rise up against the threat they face today.

“Your country needs you,” he told the audience. “It’s not as clear a challenge. But remember that the Greatest Generation for a year and a half sat on the sidelines and did almost nothing … what are you going to do?”

‘The Greatest Generation for a year and a half sat on the sidelines and did almost nothing ... what are you going to do?’

The former senator’s hot rhetoric came at the end of a week when he had surged to first place in several national polls, but also came under intense scrutiny for comments he and his supporters made about women’s access to contraception, the purpose of prenatal testing, and the role of women working outside the home.

But rather than back off or apologize for those comments in Georgia, a fully confident Santorum stuck to his own message in front of the deeply religious audience, which was eager to hear it.

In addition to his call to action and policy prescriptions, he also introduced his wife, Karen, who had come along on a rare campaign swing, calling her a “prayer warrior,” as well as three of his seven children. Taken together, the image was unmistakable evidence that Santorum is a rare politician who lives by the values he preaches and is, in the words of many attendees, “a family man.”

And although many went into the Santorum event as Gingrich backers, several came out converted.

“I know Newt, and I like him, but Rick Santorum is getting my vote,” said Janet Johnson from Marietta, Ga. “When I see Santorum, I feel like I can connect with him as a real person. The things he says speak to me and to my values and to my heart.”

Elaine Hutchings of Roswell, Ga., agreed. “I was impressed. He gave you a warm fuzzy. He was genuine,” she said. “And he doesn’t have a lot of baggage like Newt.”

Georgia state Sen. David Shafer, the chairman of Santorum’s campaign in the state, also knows Gingrich well.

“All of us like and respect Newt, but I think the momentum is with Rick Santorum,” he said. “I think he's the best candidate we could put up against Barack Obama. He offers the best contrast.”

But what about that “electability” issue, the rap on Santorum that he is too conservative, too untested, too underfunded, or too understaffed to win the GOP nomination and then the White House in November?

“Everyone says Mitt Romney is electable,” Shafer said. “But I’m not sure how you’re called electable if you can’t win any elections.”