GOP Presidential contender and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania blitzed the Memphis area Sunday, March 4, attending services at Bellevue Baptist Church and Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, both in Cordova.
Some polls have shown Rick Santorum as the leading candidate in Tennessee in the Super Tuesday Republican primary.
(Photo: AP Photo/The Daily Citizen, Matt Hamilton)
Santorum's Sunday stops, which included lunch at Corky's barbecue in East Memphis, came just days before the March 6 Tennessee presidential primary election which is part of several presidential primaries across the country billed as "Super Tuesday."
Santorum did not speak at either church as part of the services.
Outside Corky's, Santorum took questions from reporters and reacted to President Barack Obama's comments earlier in the day that there is too much "bluster" about a possible military conflict with Iran. Obama has not ruled out some kind of military action on the question of Iran's nuclear proliferation. But Santorum is among those critical of Obama for not taking a harder line as gas prices in the U.S. rise.
"The best thing that could happen in the world markets," Santorum said, according to The Los Angeles Times, "is an Iran without a nuclear weapon and a new Iranian regime, neither of which he is doing very much about to make happen."
With the Republican presidential nomination still up for grabs and Santorum leading in some polls in Tennessee, his stops reflected his campaign's focus on social issues such as abortion as well as his recent statements critical of the concept of church-state separation.
Some new polls closer to election day show Santorum's lead in other earlier polls has closed to a virtual tie with rival Mitt Romney.
Four years ago, Bellevue Baptist was among the final stops before Tennessee's Feburary presidential primary for Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who sought the GOP nomination in 2008.
Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, spoke at a Sunday evening service at Bellevue, although it was at the request of two ministers who were ordained during the service. He also stopped at Corky's after the service.
Huckabee carried Shelby County as well as the state of Tennessee in the race for the nomination that was eventually won by Arizona Senator John McCain.
Bill Haslam was mayor of Knoxville the last time Mitt Romney was on the Tennessee presidential primary ballot in 2008.
His economic development commissioner, Bill Hagerty, was then and is now among those in the state’s Republican and business establishment trying to put the former Massachusetts governor over the top.
With one weekend left to campaign before the March 6 primary election, Hagerty was discounting polls showing a lead in the state for Santorum. It was a much different weekend before the 2008 Super Tuesday primaries.
Four years ago, former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee was the choice of the state party’s establishment. Hagerty was among those working for Romney’s national campaign and they had decided to cede Tennessee to Thompson. When Thompson dropped out, his supporters shifted to Romney. But it was too late.
“Fred Thompson was a candidate through South Carolina. Gov. Romney came off his win in Michigan last time into Florida. Florida was the weekend before Super Tuesday,” Hagerty said, recalling the protracted primary battle among Republican contenders in Florida. “We just didn’t have enough time to put an organization in place in this state after Sen. Thompson dropped out.”
Romney then dropped out just before Tennessee's primary.
“We’ve got an organizational leader in every major county across the state,” Hagerty said of the 2012 effort. “I expect him to play across the state. But it does make the state more challenging.”
Haslam, meanwhile, told a group of about 100 Memphis Romney supporters at the same stop Thursday, March 1, that there was still time for a “surprising result” in favor of Romney in Tennessee.
“Folks just haven’t made up their minds yet,” Haslam said.
As Haslam kicked off a weekend of Romney events across the state in Memphis to include a stop with one-time GOP presidential aspirant Tim Pawlenty, Santorum had already been campaigning in Nashville and Knoxville.
One of Santorum’s top advisers, John Brabender, told The Associated Press, Santorum’s future beyond Super Tuesday may depend on former House Speaker Newt Gingrich getting out of the race.
“If we could ever make this where we have all the conservatives and tea party supporters behind us as one candidate against Mitt Romney, we’ll win the nomination,” he said.
Brabender described Santorum’s campaign as a “MacGyver campaign” similar to the television show about a hero who improvises his way through close calls.
In Knoxville last week, Santorum credited Gingrich as being “a great educator” as Santorum considered running for Congress.
“It was important for me to understand who we are,” Santorum said. “(Former President Ronald) Reagan did a lot of that education and give Newt credit for doing a lot more.”
Meanwhile, Haslam told the Memphis Romney supporters that he won’t be supporting Romney by “bashing” President Barack Obama.
Obama has touted Haslam for the state’s efforts at education reform through federal Race to the Top funding. And Haslam talked with Obama last week about storm damage in other parts of the state.
“I’m not here about bashing the president. I’m here because I do think we have a really important choice to make,” Haslam said, referring to Obama national health care changes Haslam estimates will cost the state $300 million in their first year. “I think we need to elect as president someone who will take on the very biggest problem we have as a country. … We’re spending more than we’re bringing in. … You can’t just keep doing that.”
Local supporters of Gingrich, meanwhile, rallied in the Collierville Town Square over the weekend. Gingrich has focused much of his Super Tuesday efforts on winning his home state of Georgia.