The Ticket

Rick Santorum hunts for a big endorsement but comes up empty

Holly Bailey, Yahoo News
The Ticket

View photo

.

Santorum and King address reporters (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

ADEL, IOWA--Rick Santorum insisted he just felt like going hunting. But with just a week to go before Iowa's Republican presidential caucuses, it wasn't quite that simple.

Dressed in a bright orange jacket and a baseball cap stitched with the letters "NRA," Santorum embarked on a post-Christmas Day pheasant hunt outside Des Moines Monday, but it wasn't just the birds he was aiming for.

At Santorum's side was Rep. Steve King, an influential Iowa congressman whose 2012 endorsement is still up for grabs ahead of next week's vote. Standing before a pack of reporters, the former Pennsylvania senator conceded that he hadn't performed as well as he'd hoped on his excursion.

Santorum was talking about the birds—he'd killed just four, down from the six he'd bagged during his last hunting trip.  But he might just as well have been talking about his main quarry--King, the Hawkeye state conservative leader, who told reporters in the wake of the pheasant-hunting trip that he still doesn't know who he will endorse for the Republican nomination.

"I've got a few days yet before a decision has to be made," King said, as Santorum awkwardly stood at his side. "I want my head and my heart to come together, and when that happens, and if that happens, I'll jump in with both feet. I hope it's not after the ship's already left, but it could be."

Santorum tried to save face, insisting that he'd merely asked King out for an afternoon of hunting as a friendly gesture.

"I invited Steve to come out and hunt," Santorum told reporters. "I almost consider myself a resident here, so it's sort of a neighborly thing to do. I am happy Steve is here."

Indeed, the photo-op could be helpful for Santorum, who was the lone candidate on the trail the day after Christmas. His campaign allowed photographers to tag along in the pheasant-bagging expedition--and the image of the stalwart social-conservative candidate loaded for pheasant surely won't hurt Santorums bid to shore up his credentials among conservative voters who favor gun rights.

"There's nobody who's done more for the Second Amendment and been stronger on that issue than I have," Santorum said.

And while King did not bestow his official endorsement, Santorum still got to pose--however awkwardly--alongside the influential conservative congressman.

At one point, King reminded Santorum of their competition earlier in the year to see who could shed the most weight. The former senator that he'd come up short of his goal, gaining a good deal of the weight back  conceded he had gained most of the weight back. He even admitted to a reporter how much he currently weighs.

"I'm about 211 right now," Santorum said, as King chuckled. "It's a little thick for me."

But Santorum was much more guarded in handicapping his post-Iowa prospects. He's spent more time in Iowa than any of his rivals and frequently boasts of visiting all of the state's 99 counties--but for all his hard work on the trail, he remains mired in single digits in Iowa polling. Several big endorsements--including one from Bob Vander Plaats, a key social conservative activist in the state—haven't sparked any real momentum behind his campaign, especially in the critical contest for campaign cash to see candidates through the balance of the punishing primary season.

Still, Santorum insisted he believes he will do well in next week's caucus vote. However, he pointedly declined to say whether he would quit the race if he comes up short of a strong finish.

Asked how he would define a "win" next Tuesday, Santorum replied, "Exceeding expectations." With just a week out from the balloting, however, some of his supporters have to be wondering if he might be just a few pheasants short.

Other popular Yahoo! News stories:

Want more of our best political stories? Visit The Ticket or connect with us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

View Comments (952)