iOS app Android app More

Jason Cherkis
GET UPDATES FROM Jason:

Rick Santorum 1994 Campaign: The Opposition File

Posted: 03/22/2012 2:53 pm Updated: 03/22/2012 5:34 pm

WASHINGTON -- In 1994, as he was making his first successful run for the U.S. Senate, Rick Santorum was followed by trackers, who were hired by the state Democratic party and equipped with video cameras. The trackers trailed Santorum into public events at municipal buildings, on factory floors and inside community centers across Pennsylvania. They recorded how many people were in the room, whether or not media was on hand and Santorum's every word.

After every event, a tracker wrote up a memo for the campaign staff of Santorum's opponent, Harris Wofford. The nearly 200 memos, obtained by The Huffington Post, are archived along with the rest of Wofford's papers at Bryn Mawr College, where Wofford had served as president.

The memos are documents of an era long before politicians operated in social media, reporter embeds live-tweeted what songs the campaign blasts before each speech and gaffes became instant YouTube memes. The typed field reports are rich in unglamorous detail. You can smell the bad coffee, taste the rubber chicken, and suck in the cigarette smoke. The memos offer a portrait of the politician as a young man, galvanized by battles over President Clinton's healthcare plan and welfare reform and slowly earning his cultural warrior reputation. In them Santorum appears as a grind-it-out campaigner -- like the one who showed up in Iowa 18 years later -- who is willing to work a room no matter how small.

In '94, there were a lot of small rooms: The Williamsport Wire Rope Co. Turtle Creek. Squirrel Hill. At a yearbook publishing plant in Centre County, the tracker noted, "Approximately 30-35 people, many Republicans, all white." At the Haleyville Drapery Manufacturing in Columbia County, those who gathered, the tracker wrote in a memo, were "generally an apathetic group."

On April 1, 1994, a tracker waited for Santorum inside the cafeteria of Masland Carpets in Carlisle, Pa. He noted that "RS" was running a half-hour late. The tracker gabbed with the employees and reported back: "In talking to some of the employees outside and at the event, I learned that very few knew or cared that RS was coming to the plant." The tracker wrote, "The only way they found out was by reading the paper. Those who attended were hand-picked by company officials." When Santorum did finally speak at events, the trackers hit the record button.

"No one knew who Santorum was," explained Patricia Ewing, Wofford's campaign manager, in an interview with Huff Post. "We needed to get him on record ... Bonus is he doesn't handle pressure well."

Sometimes the candidate mocked the tracker, bragging that he was such a consistent politician, they'd never catch him in any inconsistencies. The presence of the opposition's cameras did not stop Santorum from making controversial statements: The trackers report that Santorum argued for a raise in the retirement age for Social Security or saw a conspiracy in Pell Grants (which Santorum apparently stated were being given to rapists and murderers, according to the trackers' reports) and claimed that single mothers breed criminals.

In a room of Jewish grandmothers, he claimed he was not in favor of prayer in schools. At a separate event, his wife lamented the lack of religious expression in the classroom.

Even on major policy positions, Santorum appears in retrospect to be widely uneven. Santorum spent much of the time campaigning against President Clinton's healthcare reforms as a big government takeover. At a July stop at the Blue Marsh Lake Beach Pavilion in Berks County, he compared signing of the Declaration of Independence to the refusal to accept Clinton's health plan.

But at later event, Santorum offered high praise for one of big government's biggest programs. "Harris Wofford says we should have insurance -- everyone should [have] insurance as good as what members of Congress get," he argued at one event. "No, everyone should have insurance as good as Medicaid recipients have because Medicaid recipients have better insurance than members of Congress do, and that's a fact."

Of course, the juicy quote never got a second life on Facebook or on Twitter. Nor did it get endlessly dissected on blogs. It was just typed up and put in a memo. Says Ewing today: "In a YouTube world, Santorum would have lost."

Now, you can decide for yourself. Read all the memos below or search them by key word or phrase. To check out the searchable version of the memos, go here. Here's everything HuffPost found on health care, deficits, labor, "black kids," single parents and crime.

Post your favorites in the comments. If you were at one of these events in '94 or Santorum's last campaign in '06, we'd love to hear from you . Please email your stories to Jason.cherkis@huffingtonpost.com.

Also on HuffPost:

FOLLOW POLITICS

From our partners

Subscribe to the HuffPost Hill newsletter!