[imgcontainer right] [img:rick-santorum-hunts-with-steve-king-238.jpeg] [source]Iowa Republican[/source] Rick Santorum hunted for votes in all 99 rural counties — and rural voters appreciated his attention. He also hunted a few days before the election with very conservative Congressman Steve King. [/imgcontainer]

Mitt Romney could play some country music (“Life is a Highway”) at his election night rally in Clive, Iowa, but that wasn’t enough to give him the rural vote.

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum won rural Iowa, with nearly 28 percent of the vote in the state’s rural counties. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney won Iowa overall (albeit by just 8 votes at this time), but he came in third among rural Iowans, behind both Santorum and Texas congressman Ron Paul, with 20.1% of the rural vote.

Romney won 19.6 percent of the vote in rural Iowa counties.

The Iowa caucuses produced a dead heat between Santorum and Romney. But the two candidates got their votes from entirely different geographies. Romney won in urban Iowa while Santorum caught up in rural counties.


Romney won nearly 56 percent of his total vote from Iowa’s urban counties. Urban counties supplied 47 percent of Iowa’s vote.

Santorum, meanwhile, won 47 percent of his vote from rural counties, which only supplied 41 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses. 

(Yes, contrary to what you may have heard, a majority of votes in Iowa don’t come from rural counties.)


The two leading candidates were essentially tied in Iowa’s exurban counties — the counties on the edge of cities that are within metropolitan regions but have at least half their residents living in rural settings. Both candidates won about 24 percent of Iowa’s exurban vote.


Ron Paul received 20 percent of the vote in rural and exurban counties, and a slightly higher total in urban Iowa (23 percent of the total).

Why did Rick Santorum do so well in rural Iowa? There are no definitive answers, but lots of speculation.

Santorum campaigned the old fashioned way — he met people. The former senator drove a pickup to all 99 of the state’s counties in a marathon of town meetings, talks and handshakes. He had a quiet demeanor that must have pleased the people he met and a strong family life. Maybe rural voters liked a guy who took the time to show himself and say hello.

Santorum also campaigned on what are now old-fashioned social conservative issues — abortion, gay marriage, strong families, stem cell research. He called his campaign through Iowa the “Faith, Family, and Freedom Tour.”

And as political scientist John Sides writes, Santorum provided voters with “sincere social conservatism that wasn’t complicated by earlier moral failings (Gingrich, Cain) or missteps in the campaign (Perry).” 

Santorum also picked up endorsements from key conservatives, such as radio talk show host Sam Clovis and Bob Vander Plaats, a former gubernatorial candidate who led the campaign to oust three state Supreme Court judges who ruled in favor of gay marriage in 2010. 

[imgcontainer left] [img:romneyonchair530.jpg] [source]AP/Charlie Riedel[/source] Mitt Romney at the Music Man Square in Mason City, Iowa. [/imgcontainer]

And, since Santorum’s surge came late in the campaign, other candidates didn’t have time to react. When other candidates (Perry, Cain, Gingrich) moved ahead, all were brought back to the pack by negative ads, troubling news from the candidates’ past or gaffes. Santorum never received this kind of negative attention.

Experts don’t expect Santorum to do as well in New Hampshire, the next stop in the primary where Romney has a sizeable lead. Even a good showing in South Carolina doesn’t leave Santorum with many places to go. Sides wrote that the “Santorum surge should prove short-lived.” 

But Santorum is making a new pitch. On his web site this morning the candidate announced: “Rick Santorum Proves He is the Only Conservative who can beat Mitt Romney.” 

He’s staking that claim with votes coming out of rural Iowa.

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