Blog Posts by Chris Moody, Yahoo News

  • Rick Santorum’s little gaffes: endearing or problematic?

    Rick Santorum holds a piece of oil-rich shale rock during a speech. (Carlos Osorio/AP)DETROIT -- Rick Santorum is a man who shoots from the hip, and he's proud of it.

    "I never have to worry about what I say," Santorum told supporters during a campaign stop in Traverse City, Mich., last weekend, "because I will say what's on my heart. I might not say it the most articulate sometimes and I understand that, but I have no teleprompters. I answer questions."

    He's right about a few things here. His speeches are off-the-cuff, a skill he practiced over nearly two decades in public life and honed when he held literally hundreds of intimate town hall meetings in Iowa. Those "events"--a generous term--provided voters with unparalleled access to the former Pennsylvania senator and often felt more like hangout sessions than an address from a presidential candidate. Now that he's leading national polls, Santorum hasn't changed his strategy much, but more people are paying attention to what he says.

    And sometimes, he says things that just aren't true--and he ends up having to walk them back when the press hounds him for it.

    Most of the baby gaffes are probably by accident, but they could have been avoided if he had better prepared his remarks or--dare we say--used a teleprompter. In the past week alone, Santorum delivered a flowing stream of these small misstatements. Members of the press, constantly on the hunt for something fresh to say, jumped on each one.

    During his most recent campaign swing, Santorum's avoidable trouble began while blaming President Barack Obama for high gas prices.

    "We went into a recession in 2008 because of gasoline prices," Santorum said on Feb. 27 during a speech in Lansing, Mich. "The bubble burst in housing because people couldn't pay their mortgages because of $4-a-gallon gasoline."

    Well sure, high prices at the pump certainly don't help while financial resources are tight, and economists have debated the role they played in the recession. But Santorum used the word "because," suggesting that it was gas prices that single-handedly brought down the global economy. After the speech, reporters tried to get him to clarify the remarks to see if that's what he meant, but he declined to walk it back at first.

    The next afternoon, on primary day, reporters were still asking him about it, which is not what he wanted to discuss just hours before the polls closed.

    "Certainly the spiking gas prices had a huge impact on the recession in 2008," Santorum said, defending his comments.

    "But did they cause it?" a reporter pressed.

    "Okayyy," he said. "They contributed to, if that's a better way of putting it, they contributed to the recession of 2008."

    Later that night, as Santorum addressed his supporters in Grand Rapids after it was clear that Romney would win both state contests in Arizona and Michigan, Santorum stuck with his trademark free-flowing style. He discussed how far the campaign had come, vowed to press on and invoked the nation's founders, saying: "The men and women who signed that declaration wrote the final phrase, 'We pledge to each other our lives, our fortune and our sacred honor."

    Reporters sitting in the back noticed, and brought up the error during a question and answer session with Santorum's chief strategist John Brabender later that night.

    "He said men and women signed the declaration," a reporter said. "No women signed it."

    "I'm sorry," Brabender said. "You're right, if you want a retraction on that, I won't tell you otherwise."

    During the same speech, Santorum also promised that his administration would "end entitlement programs on the federal level, give them back to the states and cut them dramatically to save money." For many people--right or wrong--the vague promise to "end entitlement programs" could mean dismantling the federal Social Security and Medicare programs--which is not something Santorum wants people to think he believes. (Brabender, again asked to clarify, said that Santorum was referring to programs like food stamps, and that while Social Security needs reforming, it should belong in the federal government's domain.)

    These small misstatements, of course, aren't devastating. They won't torpedo his candidacy. Campaigning will go on. But is appearing off-the-cuff so important that it's worth having to constantly correct and clarify, when you could be talking up your strengths and ideas or highlighting the weaknesses of Obama or Mitt Romney?

    For Santorum, the answer is a firm yes.

    "What you have with me," he likes to say, "is 'what you see is what you get.' " And perhaps some voters find this freestyle nature endearing and real, gaffes and all.

    Then again, maybe reporters just have too much time on their hands.

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  • At a Santorum business breakfast, it’s social issues–not the economy–that fire up the crowd

    Rick Santorum speaks at the Livonia Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Livonia, Mich. (Eric Gay/AP)LIVONIA, Mich. -- Rick Santorum began a morning speech here Monday in front of what initially appeared to be a sleepy group of about 300 business leaders.

    For more than half of his talk, the audience, who was sitting at round tables eating breakfast while the former senator spoke, stared at him without making a sound as he made his pitch on taxes and regulation.

    Santorum touted his plan to get rid of the Alternative Minimum Tax. Silence. He waxed philosophical about cutting the corporate tax rate. Crickets. Then he pushed for instituting a flat tax. Nothin'.

    Finally, nearly 20 minutes in, Santorum delivered the first applause line of the morning--and it had nothing to do with the economy.

    "We've got bold and strong plans about how to make America safer and respected," he said. "Not the weak course that allows radicals to try and intimidate us like what's going on in Afghanistan today," he continued, referring to the violent responses from Afghans in retaliation for copies of the Quran that were burned accidentally on an American military base. "Because we fall over ourselves for something we didn't have to apologize for. We made a mistake. The response was, deliberately kill the Americans. That's not a mistake. We should stop apologizing for America and stand up and defend our troops."

    At last, the crowd erupted in applause, cheers and whistles.

    From then on, the candidate kept his remarks focused on cultural topics, and his audience got even more riled up each time he hit home a new point.

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  • Muslims and Arab Americans in Michigan aren’t getting attention from Republican presidential candidates

    A Ron Paul flyer in Arabic produced by campaign volunteers in Dearborn, Mich. (Chris Moody/Yahoo News)

    DEARBORN, Mich.--A light snow was falling outside the largest mosque in the country, the Islamic Center of America, as the parking lot filled with worshipers at Friday prayers. Outside, four people passed out flyers in support of Ron Paul, which included Arabic and English translations of Paul's campaign message.

    "Ron Paul's Plan to Restore America," the flyer read on the English side, and listed seven of Paul's campaign priorities, including: balancing the budget, cutting spending by $1 trillion in one year, and, of course, auditing the Federal Reserve.

    The Arabic-language side, according to a translation provided by Todd Weston, Paul's regional volunteer coordinator for Dearborn, had a slightly different emphasis, including a mention of "these difficult times," and only four priorities--the three above plus an end to foreign wars. (The additional pledges on the English-language side were all domestic: lower taxes, entitlement reform, reduced spending on government employees and deregulation.)

    The flyers were the brainchild of Weston, who had the campaign literature translated into Arabic by students at a nearby college. He pitched the plan to the campaign, but ultimately made the flyers himself, he said.

    "When I got involved with the Ron Paul campaign, I felt that it was kind of an untapped voter base by the other GOP candidates and even the Democratic candidate, so I really thought it was a great area to pursue especially with Ron Paul's standing with foreign policy and civil liberties," Weston said.

    The other Republican presidential candidates have all but ignored Muslim voters in Michigan, which holds its primary on Tuesday. As many Muslims here see it, the rhetoric and proposals of the candidates have repelled even longtime Republicans in their community.

    That's one reason why Paul, a candidate who has questioned American aid to Israel and whose non-interventionist foreign policy has gained wide support among Arab voters, received an endorsement Friday from the Arab American News, a Dearborn-based newspaper published in Arabic and English.

    "The Arab American News ... sees Dr. Paul's refreshing, forthright foreign policy philosophy as one of his greatest strengths at a time when the specter of a potentially catastrophic war looms over festering, misunderstood and misreported conflicts in the Middle East," the paper's editors wrote on Friday. "His positions are perhaps the best hope for even a remotely balanced policy in the troubled region that we've seen in decades."

    Arab Republicans in the Detroit area say they are planning to announce a joint endorsement of Paul with about 150 mostly Muslim business leaders. In interviews with Yahoo News, those signing onto the pending endorsement expressed dismay with candidates like Newt Gingrich, who refers to Palestinians as an "invented people"--Arab Americans here jokingly call Gingrich "the invented candidate"--and Rick Santorum, for his hawkish stance on Iran and his stalwart defense of Israel.

    "They've come out against practically every position that the Arabs in the community support," said Nasser Beydoun, the former head of American Arab Chamber of Commerce in Dearborn. "I don't think Republicans are focused on immigrants in general or Arab Americans. They're too busy catering to the fringes of the party."

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  • Rick Santorum to receive Secret Service protection

    DAVISON, Mich. -- Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum will receive protection from the U.S. Secret Service this week, Yahoo News has confirmed.

    A source close to the campaign said the Secret Service has assigned a team to the former Pennsylvania senator. They will join him Tuesday in Michigan.

    Businessman Herman Cain was the first candidate to receive protection last fall, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has had a detail since the beginning of the month.

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  • Photos: Rick Santorum’s Daytona 500 racer

    Crew members work on the car sponsored by Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum during practice for Sunday's Daytona 500. (Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)

    DETROIT, Michigan -- Mitt Romney may have tickets to Sunday's Daytona 500 NASCAR race in Florida, but he'll be watching his rival's name fly down the track.

    Santorum's presidential campaign is sponsoring Tony Raines' car in Sunday's race. Crew members in Florida spent Saturday preparing the car, and AP photographer Rainier Ehrhardt snapped some early pictures.

    (Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)

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  • Rick Santorum talks faith, freedom and fish in Michigan

    Santorum trades his sweater vest for an apron at Michigan fish fry (Eric Gay/AP)WALLED LAKE, Mich. -- At this gathering of the multitudes, they brought more than just five loaves and two fish.

    "I love the smell of fish on a Friday night!" a jubilant Rick Santorum exclaimed when he stepped into the packed gymnasium of a Catholic school here, where the scent of fried cod, shrimp and salmon was, as the former senator pointed out, indeed potent.

    The Republican presidential candidate dropped in on a time-honored Catholic tradition of fishy fellowship to celebrate the first Friday of Lent fasting. For less than ten dollars, you could wolf down a full plate of fish, potatoes and bread, and  meet a man who could one day be president. Walking into the auditorium, Santorum removed his suit coat--did he give up his sweater vests for Lent?--and replaced it with a white apron emblazoned with the sign of the cross. As he stopped to sample the cuisine, reporters with cameras and notebooks swarmed him, only to be immediately scolded by a child who shouted, "Let the poor guy eat!"

    Santorum made only brief remarks when he first entered the room, and then walked slowly around the tables, where he signed autographs on kids' arms and greeted the faithful before driving across town to deliver a meatier address on his new policy agenda later that night.

    At the Knights of Columbus Hall in Lincoln Park, a blue-collar town south of Detroit, a smaller and more subdued audience awaited him. The room was set up with chairs only around the walls, which members of the press filled quickly, leaving most of his supporters standing in front of a stage, including a group of excited nuns from Ann Arbor. In his address--which lasted nearly an hour--Santorum waded methodically through a 10-point plan of economic proposals he vowed to set in motion in the first 100 days of his presidency. (Perhaps making people stand when you're giving an hour-long policy address is unkind, but it was far from the worst political optics of the day. That honor belonged to Mitt Romney, who delivered an economic address of his own to a nearly empty Ford Field.)

    Most of the proposals were ideas Santorum has discussed in the past, including lifting regulations on business, eliminating the corporate tax on manufacturing, repealing the federal health care law and balancing the federal budget, but this was the first speech in which all of the ideas were packaged as a concrete agenda.

    Speaking over the noise of two kids who had wandered to the back of the room to play a game that required them to scream for several minutes, Santorum spent most of the address discussing his manufacturing plan, highlighting his emphasis on blue-collar workers and the poor. Santorum's focus on manufacturing is a winner in Michigan, a state still reeling from a massive reduction in industry-related jobs in a place where the economy used to thrive because of them.

    "I care about the very poor," he said, a jab at Mitt Romney, who was hammered last month for a statement that, out of context, suggested he didn't. "I'm a 100 percenter when it comes to a president. Not a 99 versus one."

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  • New Santorum ad in Michigan focuses on manufacturing and blue-collar workers

    DETROIT, Mich. -- Rick Santorum's presidential campaign released a new television ad that highlights his economic plan to eliminate corporate taxes on manufacturing and focuses on blue-collar workers in the state.

    The 30-second spot, which will run statewide over the weekend, also attacks Romney for supporting the federal government's bailout of the financial industry in 2008 while opposing the government's emergency loans to the auto industry. Santorum was against the auto bailouts too, but he also opposed the Wall Street loans, he says.

    Watch the ad here:

    As Rachel Hartman of Yahoo News reported from Pontiac this week, parts of Michigan where manufacturing jobs once thrived are still struggling with high unemployment, so Santorum's vow to boost the industry through tax cuts should play well in the state.

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  • Off the trail, Santorum quietly mingles with Super PAC donors in Texas

    Rick Santorum in Tucson, Arizona on Wednesday. (Eric Gay/AP)Rick Santorum took the day off from the public campaign trail Thursday, choosing instead to appear at private fundraisers in Dallas, Texas. At a morning meeting at the Royal Oaks Country Club, he met with donors to the The Red, White and Blue Fund, the super PAC that has spent millions backing his candidacy.

    Although campaign finance rules dictate that candidates are not allowed to coordinate officially with super PACs, there is some legal wiggle room for candidates and their aides to appear at events.

    Still, when Yahoo News asked Santorum what he would say to the super PAC donors in Dallas, he was careful not to say that it was an official super PAC-sponsored gathering.

    "I'm doing some fundraising," Santorum said Wednesday. "I'm not doing a super PAC event."

    Read More »from Off the trail, Santorum quietly mingles with Super PAC donors in Texas
  • Santorum suggests Romney and Paul conspiring against him

    Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney (Jae C. Hong/AP)

    MESA, Ariz. -- Have Ron Paul and Mitt Romney made some kind of secret alliance to boost Romney to the nomination? Rick Santorum is starting to think so.

    After months on the campaign trail, Paul has largely chosen to focus his attacks on candidates not named Mitt Romney, most recently going after Santorum, the latest candidate to pose a challenge to Romney's candidacy. The idea that Ron Paul would spare Romney--while attacking candidates with arguably stronger conservative records than the former Massachusetts governor--has Santorum wondering.

    "You'll have to ask Congressman Paul and Governor Romney what they've got going together," Santorum told reporters after the Republican presidential debate in Mesa, Arizona on Wednesday. "Their commercials look a lot alike and so do their attacks."

    The idea might not be so far fetched. The Washington Post earlier this month reported that the Romney and Paul camps--as different as they are--have forged a behind-the-scenes alliance. "Romney's aides are 'quietly in touch with Ron Paul,' according to a Republican adviser who is in contact with the Romney campaign," the Post's Amy Gardner reported.

    Although Paul has certainly landed a few punches on Romney over the course of the campaign, his efforts against him pale in comparison to the ads and comments he has made about the other candidates.

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  • Vintage Newt (or is that Dwight Schrute?) gets campaign debut

    MESA, Arizona--Newt Gingrich's campaign website is about to go live with this well-circulated picture of Newt in his younger days, a Gingrich aide told Yahoo News.

    As many have pointed out, Young Newt bears a striking resemblance to the character Dwight Schrute from "The Office."

    Released by Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign

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