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A Tale of Two Campaigns

A Tale of Two Campaigns

By Tom Bevan - March 17, 2012


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. -- At the most basic level, political campaigns are exercises in resource management. Money is the most obvious resource, but also precious is a candidate's time. Some campaigns have more money than others, but all candidates only have 24 hours in the day.

How campaigns choose to use their candidate’s time reveals much about the efficiency and effectiveness of the operation. If Friday’s dueling events in the critical state of Illinois are an indication of where things are headed in the Republican presidential primary on Tuesday, Rick Santorum could be in trouble.

At noon Friday, hundreds of Mitt Romney supporters packed into the Founders’ Room on the campus of Elmhurst College. Romney had originally been scheduled to speak, but seeing a chance to lock down delegates in Puerto Rico he decided to stump in advance of the caucuses there on Sunday. So the speaking duties at the event were left to Romney’s most prominent surrogate, Chris Christie.

Despite being nearly an hour late -- the rumor was that Christie was delayed by the concurrent arrival in Chicago of Air Force One -- the New Jersey governor delivered an impassioned plea on behalf of Romney.

Christie extolled the national front-runner as a man of integrity, experience and leadership. Perhaps more important, he  urged the folks present to get their friends and neighbors to turn out and vote for the former Massachusetts governor, stressing how important it was to vote not just for Romney, but also for his slate of delegates who will be on the ballot Tuesday -- a product of Illinois’ hybrid primary system.

“Your vote counts on Tuesday. I didn’t come all the way out here from New Jersey because it doesn’t,” Christie told the crowd before adding a warning with his trademark gruffness: “Let’s not mess this up. We don’t need any hanging chads.”

“I bet you never thought you’d be lectured by a guy from New Jersey on how to vote,” Christie said to laughs from the crowd, making light of the reputation for Election Day shenanigans in both his home state and in Illinois.

Twenty minutes later and 20 miles to the north, Rick Santorum took the stage before an equally large crowd. But Santorum was at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights -- an odd choice of venue, given that almost no one in the audience was eligible to vote. Sounding more like a social studies teacher than a presidential candidate, Santorum spent 15 minutes extolling the Constitution and Declaration of Independence and explaining why the two documents made America an exceptional country.

Adding to the peculiarity of the event, Santorum was interrupted mid-speech by an educator, presumably the principal, who declared that time was tight and there were a number of students with questions. It was clear from Santorum’s expression that he hadn’t been briefed about this part of the program, but he willingly obliged.

Maybe he shouldn’t have.

The first student asked why Santorum said he didn’t want people to go to college and how that compared to President Obama’s plan for full and affordable access to college. The second, clearly prepped by a Democrat (even if it was one of his own parents), asked why Santorum gave less than 2 percent of his nearly $1 million income last year to charity, and how a middle-class family could be expected to care for a severely disabled child like the Santorums do without going bankrupt -- unless we had the kind of universal health care that Obama signed into law.

The last student questioned Santorum on how his economic plan would help create jobs given that is was more or less an extension of George W. Bush’s plan to keep taxes low for the richest “one percent” of the country.

Chicago resident David Axelrod could not have written four more dutifully partisan questions. And Santorum suffered through them all before the principal put an end to the session and the former Pennsylvania senator waved goodbye and scooted out the side door.

When all was said and done, he had wasted more than an hour of his time (not to mention the effort his staff invested in advance work) at an event that in all likelihood moved him not a single vote closer to victory on Tuesday. 

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics and the co-author of Election 2012: A Time for Choosing. Email: tom@realclearpolitics.com, Twitter: @TomBevanRCP

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