DES MOINES – A prominent evangelical leader in Iowa may be spreading his message in Chicago if GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s popularity surge continues beyond the Iowa caucuses.
“We have thousands of supporters, and were very blessed to have many people in Iowa and across the country who really believe in what were doing,” said Bob Vander Plaats, president and chief executive officer of The Family Leader.
In the weeks leading up to the Jan. 3rd Iowa caucuses, Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, personally endorsed Rick Santorum.
Vander Plaats said he’d campaign for Santorum beyond Iowa if the candidate needs or wants his help. That means Chicagoans could hear from Vander Plaats in the weeks before Illinois’ March 20th primary.
“I am mostly doing media interviews leading up to the caucuses. I think that’s how I can best serve him right now,” said Vander Plaats. “If Santorum wants me to play a role throughout his campaign, I’ll be open to whatever role he wants me to play: I’m already trying to work my contacts in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida.”
Over the years, The Family Leader has taken a lead on several controversial issues, speaking out against abortion and gay marriage in a state where it’s legal. In July, Santorum signed the group’s marriage pledge – “The Marriage Vow – A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family” – which would allow marriage only between one man and one woman.
During the weeks leading up to the caucuses, Julie Summa, director of marketing and public outreach and executive assistant to Vander Plaats, said she has put in on average 60 hours a week. Working out of their small office in a strip-mall, she said she gets hundreds of e-mails a day.
The long days for Summa and the small Family Leader staff may continue throughout the nomination process, depending on how Santorum does Tuesday night in Iowa.
Organizations such as The Family Leader have a core function of rallying supporters, and the work Vander Plaats and his team has done leading up the caucuses has proved helpful in Santorum’s campaign, said the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary.
“The function of these groups … is to mobilize the base that’s just the way it goes. If you don’t mobilize the base, you’re going to lose,” she said. “Organizations are most effective when they mobilize people.”
The surge in Santorum’s popularity occurred within two weeks of Vander Plaats’ endorsement: “Endorsement can be extremely valuable if the candidate is going to be the designee of the base.”
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