On Friday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum urged more than 750 people in Lee’s Summit to breathe life into Missouri’s quiet primary — and his own campaign — by casting ballots in next Tuesday’s statewide vote.
“This is a time for doing your duty,” he told the audience at John Knox Village. “This is not a rally speech. This is not a rally time.”
The former senator from Pennsylvania touched on a series of subjects in his roughly 55-minute address, including health care reform, President Barack Obama’s performance, and the nation’s reliance on faith and God to meet its challenges.
And he criticized his main Republican opponents: former governor Mitt Romney and former House speaker Newt Gingrich.
“I promise you, no moon colonies,” Santorum said, referring to a Gingrich pledge.
He also said he was “appalled” at Romney’s statement that he was not concerned with the very poor because “we have a safety net there.” The GOP front-runner later said he misspoke.
“We need a candidate who cares about 100 percent of Americans,” Santorum told the crowd.
After his speech, Santorum told reporters that a Missouri victory could give him an important boost. Santorum won the Iowa caucuses but hasn’t won any primary state so far.
“This is a pretty important state,” he said. “Let’s see how we do.”
But Santorum’s daylong Missouri swing may highlight the strange nature of the state’s presidential primary: Even if he wins Tuesday, Santorum won’t get any convention delegates here.
Indeed, the “beauty contest” nature of the vote has kept Romney and GOP candidate Ron Paul out of Missouri in the days leading to Feb. 7, and Gingrich isn’t even on the ballot.
The tangled primary has caused serious hand-wringing in Missouri, whose taxpayers will shell out $7 million or more for a mainly symbolic election.
But a growing chorus of political scientists, opinion writers and politicians maintain that Missouri is just one damaged gear in a broken presidential selection process. The nation’s entire primary system, they contend, confuses voters and candidates alike — threatening the perceived legitimacy of the outcome.
“Our system is haphazard, based on patches accumulated over 222 years,” said political scientist Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia. “We are left with the two parties trying, somehow, to make a Rube Goldberg-like system work.”
• The rules for Nevada’s caucuses today differ from county to county. Caucus sites will open at different times. The results are binding on delegates.
• Republicans in Minnesota and Colorado will caucus next Tuesday — and their votes will benon-
• Gingrich has filed a complaint over how delegates will be allocated after Florida’s primary.
• Only Paul and Romney are on the Virginia ballot. Santorum learned Friday he isn’t on the Indiana ballot — and promised a challenge.
• Missouri’s Republican primary is open to Democrats. Florida’s primary was not.
• Iowa’s votes were miscounted on caucus night, initially depriving Santorum of his victory.
Democrats aren’t immune from the primary confusion. In Missouri, Tuesday’s resultsare
binding on convention delegates. And in 2008, the role of hazy “superdelegates” tied up the party for months.
“It’s a crazy system,” said Richard Berg-Andersson, founder of TheGreenPapers.com, which catalogs primary rules and outcomes for every state.
Santorum told reporters in Lee’s Summit that he is particularly worried about different requirements for candidates to get on the ballot.
“It would be better if the states had a little bit more uniformity on their ballot access,” he said.
But efforts to standardize primary and caucus rules within political parties have fizzled, experts said. It’s almost impossible to get states to agree on when to hold primaries, let alone agree on how votes should be counted or delegates selected.
Four years ago, University of Virginia political science professor James Ceaser wrote that the primary process resembled that of a banana republic.
“It’s a strange process when the rules are being made up at the time the process is taking place,” he said Friday.
But he and others said damage from a convoluted primary usually disappears after a party picks its nominee. Even in 2008 — when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton battled for months — the push for major reforms dwindled after the general election.
“I wouldn’t want to say the solution is to have one set of rules for everybody,” Ceaser said.
On Friday, Santorum said he would follow Missouri’s rules, which include a party caucus in March.
And he appealed to the audience to vote for more than just a change in federal programs or economic policy.
“This is an election about freedom,” he said. “America isn’t about jobs.”
Shari Steen of Peculiar, Mo., said she was impressed.
“I was delighted to hear about his stand on economics, his understanding of the importance of our country, and its foundations based on biblical and faith principles. I was thrilled.”