Rick Santorum’s empty diner strategy

Published 10:18 PM EDT, Mon June 8, 2015
Carroll, Iowa CNN —  

Even when you’re the defending champion of the Iowa caucuses, there’s no guarantee you’ll find big crowds at every stop.

When Rick Santorum stopped by Sam’s Soda and Sandwiches in Carroll, Iowa, on Monday afternoon, he was met with three of his own staffers, two Democratic campaign trackers, a waitress, two diners and one CNN reporter.

Though it may not have been the reception he hoped for, the former Pennsylvania senator took it in stride, spending about an hour drinking a chocolate milkshake and chatting with the two diners.

Betsy Klein/CNN

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Santorum, who eked out an Iowa caucus victory in 2012, said it’s not always about the quantity of the turnout, it’s about quality personal interactions with voters at campaign stops.

“The key in those smaller counties is to find one or two really good volunteers,” Santorum told CNN. “(Then they) tell everybody in the county that you came, and that you were available to speak to them and you sat for an hour and listened to the concerns of the people from that county.”

One of the diners, a woman who identified herself as Kay, sat next to Santorum at the soda counter and told him she couldn’t remember if she voted for him or Michele Bachmann last time. Afterwards, she said she was impressed by Santorum, but it was too early to decide who she would caucus for.

But Santorum’s efforts were rewarded on another front. The former senator spoke with a young man who had supported his 2012 candidacy, but this time came to Sam’s to take on a more active campaign role. Santorum declared him his new county chair.

“It’s a lot of miles and it’s a lot of one-on-one, small group conversations to get people interested in the vision that you have, and buy into that vision … and be willing to make a difference,” Santorum said.

And so it goes for the most recent Republican Iowa caucus victor.