“I shook his hand! I shook his hand!” one woman said excitedly as she walked away from a crowd still hoping for an autograph, handshake or opportunity to pray with the presidential candidate.
Former Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, fresh off primary and caucus victories in three states, visited Oklahoma City on Feb. 9. The candidate trailed in the polls until January’s Iowa Republican caucus, which he narrowly won over front-runner Mitt Romney.
For a few weeks, Santorum did not win any contests, but he quickly bounced back and — judging by his reception in Oklahoma City and Tulsa — has a chance to claim victory in the state’s March 6 primary, when 10 states will go to the polls to select the Republican nominee.
Santorum isn’t the first GOP presidential candidate to visit Oklahoma this season — Romney and former candidates Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry have all stopped by for visits — but he drew the largest crowd.
Originally scheduled at a gun range, the event ended up moved to a nearby hotel where its ballroom overflowed with Santorum supporters.
A man in a camouflage baseball cap and jeans tucked into his cowboy boots donned a T-shirt that advised: “Be afraid.” The back of his shirt read: “I’m the God fearin’, Bible believin’, gun packin’, America lovin’ Conservative Obama warned you about.” Several feet away, a man in a pinstripe suit and shellacked hair a la Gordon Gekko also waited for Santorum to take the stage.
People began to raise signs as they waited, and when one hoisted a “We vote pro-life” poster, the crowd cheered.
Santorum’s speech energized the crowd even furthe. His references to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and former Cuban President Fidel Castro drew choruses of “boos.” They cheered “hydraulic fracturing” and the mention of foreign oil brought cries of “Keystone.” referring to the controversial proposed transcontinental oil pipeline.
Dwindling oil flow in the trans-Alaska pipeline justifies drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Santorum told the crowd.
“The president of the United States sees this and looks at this and says, ‘No, we can’t develop a tundra that is frozen over 10 months out of the year with drilling that is clean with a pipeline that is safe,’” he said. “Can you explain to me why the president of the United States is doing this?”
“Because he hates America,” one person said. “Because he’s a socialist!” cried another, prompting cheers.
“Folks, this is the most important election of your lifetime,” Santorum said.
At one point, Santorum spoke of the difference between the U.S. Constitution and the French Constitution.
“[The French] did not claim their rights were inalienable that came from God. It was a secular revolution, which we relied upon the goodness of each other,” Santorum said. “This is the left’s view of where America should go. And of course where did France go? To the guillotine, to tyranny. If there are no rights that government needs to respect, then what you see with Obamacare is just the beginning of what government will do to you.”
Photos by Mark Hancock