Santorum's Minn. fans show tepid support for Romneyby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Now that Rick Santorum has dropped out of the presidential race, his supporters in Minnesota are deciding whether to back presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
Santorum won the straw poll at the Minnesota caucuses back in February, when it seemed like many Republicans were looking for a more conservative alternative to Romney.
Santorum made a fan of Bemidji Woolen Mills owner Bill Batchelder — in more ways than one.
"January 12th is when the world changed," Batchelder said.
That's the day Batchelder got a request from the Santorum campaign to start making sweater vests that Santorum could give to contributors. Even now, a picture of Santorum clad in a sweater vest visiting Bemidji Woolen Mills is featured on the company's website.
Batchelder said the spike in business has been great. He's still filling 4,000 sweater-vest orders from the Santorum campaign. He also came to admire Santorum.
"Rick had a message that connected. I mean obviously, he went much further than all the political pundits gave him credit for," he said.
At Santorum's request, Batchelder sought and then won election as a delegate to this summer's Republican National Convention.
People who supported his campaign to become a Santorum delegate are now asking Batchelder what to do. Backing Romney is apparently not the obvious direction to go.
"I've been getting emails from people in the 7th Congressional District wanting to determine what the next step is," Batchelder said.
Batchelder said he'll take his cue from Santorum when Santorum's ready to signal supporters. But it doesn't sound like it'll be easy for him to get excited about Romney.
"There's different people that you work harder for, so I'm going to have to really study up on all the faux pas and all the mistakes that Mitt Romney has made and, you know, see what I can do for him." Batchelder said.
Angela Muttonen of Forest Lake is also disappointed Santorum is no longer in the nomination race. She trusted him.
"I like the way he spoke," she said.
Muttonen attended her first caucus this year to support Santorum. She has a Santorum yard sign, made telephone calls to voters in other states to help Santorum and donated money to his campaign — something she said she's never done before.
Will she be doing any of that for Romney?
"No. He will definitely have my vote. I think we need at least a generation if not two before I'd consider a Democrat," Muttonen said.
Muttonen said Romney has a political organization behind him and doesn't need the kind of help that was critical to Santorum.
Santorum was also Ben Blackhawk's first choice.
"He seemed to have a firmer grip on what I consider important as far as being a conservative," said Blackhawk, of Crystal.
He said regardless of any shortcomings in Romney's conservative credentials, he thinks most Santorum supporters will end up voting for Romney.
"Some of them will work for Romney enthusiastically and some of them maybe not so enthusiastically, some of them may not work as hard even though they'll show up at the polls to vote," he said.
Washington University political science professor Steven Smith said a less-than-enthusiastic base could be more of a problem for Romney in states other than Minnesota. He said President Barack Obama is expected to win here, but in toss up states voter enthusiasm is key to winning.
Smith said unenthusiastic support for Romney could hurt Republicans in Minnesota further down the ballot in legislative races.
"There were a large number of Republicans who were elected last time in Democratic-leaning districts and they have to figure that this next election might be a tough one," Smith said. "If some of their conservative friends decide to just sit it out, maybe go to the polls but otherwise not be too helpful, it could cost some of them their seats."
Smith said Santorum is in a strong position to help or hurt Romney. If he gets behind the man he criticized as not being conservative enough, his followers will be much more likely to also get on board than if Santorum withholds his support.