Stumping for Tuesday, Santorum hints at 2016

WATERLOO | Former Sen. Rick Santorum rallied Republican volunteers and met with members of his PAC, Patriot Voices, in the Cedar Valley Saturday.

Santorum, who represented Pennsylvania in the Senate, hinted at exploring a presidential run in 2016 as he rallied volunteers to make a last push to get voters out for Tuesday’s midterm election.

He spoke briefly at the Black Hawk County Republican Headquarters Saturday evening before having dinner with Patriot Voices volunteers at Pizza Ranch in Cedar Falls.

Santorum said the results of Iowa’s tight Senate race between Rep. Bruce Braley and Republican challenger Joni Ernst could carry over into the 2016 election.

Santorum’s visit came as other national political players visited Iowa in the final hours leading up to the election. President Bill Clinton spoke at a Braley campaign event in Waterloo at the same time Santorum was visiting with his volunteers.

“Santorum versus Clinton,” Santorum said. “Sounds very interesting to me.”

Speaking to volunteers, he kept the talk of 2016 focused on the Senate race.

“To show a victory in Iowa is not just important for the Senate,” he to volunteers gathered at the headquarters Saturday evening. “You have an opportunity to set a tone for 2016.”

A big gain in the Senate could build momentum for a Republican to take the White House in 2016, Santorum said.

Santorum didn’t rule out returning to Iowa between Tuesday and then but stopped short of declaring his candidacy for president.

“I’ll be back — I’m sure a few times,” he said. “I’ve been pretty clear we’re keeping our options open.”

Republicans aren’t projected to gain much ground in the Senate during the 2016 election, and the party could possibly lose ground, he said. If the GOP doesn’t carry a majority in the Senate resulting from Tuesday’s election, they likely won’t have the majority after 2016 either, he added.

The race between Ernst and Braley, which has been close, has widened in Ernst’s favor, according to the latest polls. Santorum announced the news that the most recent and final Des Moines Register poll shows Ernst leading Braley 51 to 44 percent, eliciting cheers from the gathered Republicans.

Santorum said Ernst embodies “the values of Iowa” and that Braley has “gone Washington.”

Santorum credited Democrats for having more boots on the ground and having volunteers work to get people out to the polls.

“The other side closes better than we do,” he told volunteers.

“We’ve lost a lot of close races over the last few years,” he later said in an interview. “And we lost because of the ground game.”

Santorum briefly manned the phone bank at the Republican headquarters after speaking with supporters. Volunteers for Patriot Voices from New York to Arizona and points in between worked to knock on doors and make phone calls. The PAC underwrites the volunteers’ expenses.

Scott Adkins, the Black Hawk County Republican chairman, said extra help is welcome.

Iowans will see more of that before 2016, Santorum said.

“Iowa is where it all begins.”

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