Clean sweep for underdog Santorum in election race

This week, super-rich Mitt Romney hoped he would secure his status as a US presidential candidate. But now, in a shocking reversal, a man with no money has won three important votes.

Political pundits were stunned as the results came trickling in yesterday. Three US states had held elections to decide who should become the official presidential candidate of the Republican Party. In all three, the man they chose was Rick Santorum.

For the front-runner, Mitt Romney, this was an astonishing upset. Romney is smooth, presentable, well-organised and intelligent; he has done everything possible to woo Republican voters to his side; as one commentator pointed out, even his hair is perfect.

Santorum, meanwhile, is a scrappy battler with controversial opinions, a taste for sleeveless jerseys and so little organisational backing that he has spent much of the campaign riding around in a pickup truck.

And yet, in this latest round of what will probably be a long hard fight, Santorum didn’t just win – he gave Romney a hammering.

What makes the result especially surprising is the vast difference in wealth between the candidates. The Santorum campaign has raised just over two million dollars so far. Romney, meanwhile, has raised nearly $60 million.

Then there are the controversial campaign bodies called ‘Super PACs’, which channel huge donations from corporations and billionaires in support of the various candidates. Romney’s Super PAC is estimated to have outspent Santorum’s Super PAC in the latest contest by a ratio of 40:1.

This kind of spending is a powerful political weapon. Earlier in the Republican race, Romney faced a challenge from Newt Gingrich, another veteran politician. Immediately, the Romney Super PAC unleashed millions of dollars worth of negative TV advertising, destroying Gingrich’s reputation with voters and crushing his chances at the polls.

Santorum, of course, will now face a similar onslaught and the odds are that Romney and his millions will eventually win through – to face Barack Obama in the real presidential election this November.

In fact, the Obama campaign recently announced that it would encourage its own Super PAC, in an effort to counter Romney’s wealth. Obama once called Super PACs a threat to democracy. He has now decided that he cannot afford to be without one.

Rick rolling

That was a sad but necessary decision, his supporters say. The reality of modern politics is that money buys you votes. Without the huge piles of cash that a good Super PAC can provide, it is impossible to win an election.

But more idealistic types see Santorum’s surprise victory as a source of hope. Whatever anyone might think of his policies, he took on a financial behemoth – armed only with the power of his personality and the strength of his ideas – and this week, at least, he won.

You Decide

  1. How important do you think money is, in winning elections? Why?
  2. Should politicians reject huge donations from corporations and billionaires?

Activities

  1. Design a campaign poster for either Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney.
  2. How are election campaigns financed in your country? Do some online research to find out.

Some People Say...

“With so much money in politics, democracy is a sham.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why are these Super PACs so controversial?
Normally, the amount any one person can donate to a political candidate is limited. But donations to Super PACs are unlimited so long as the Super PACs stay independent from the candidate’s official campaign. This is the first time such unlimited donations have been allowed.
Do all countries have something similar?
All countries struggle to control the flow of money into politics. Most have rules limiting the size of donation that is allowed.
Why?
To prevent anyone ‘buying influence’. If politicians need money to get elected, anyone who can offer a few million dollars, say, might well be able to get some favourable policy decisions in return. That would, of course, be totally illegal – but it is very hard to prevent.

Word Watch

Pundit
A pundit is an expert or someone who comments on something like sport or current affairs. The word comes originally from Hindi payndit, meaning ‘a wise or learned man’.
Elections
In the US electoral system, each party holds ‘primary elections’ in each US state to decide who their presidential candidate should be. The candidates that win in the most states then face each other in the final presidential election. This week, the states of Missouri, Colorado and Minnesota held their votes.
Controversial opinions
Santorum is a social conservative, known for taking hard-line positions against abortion, gay marriage, gay rights and contraception.
Negative TV advertising
So-called ‘attack ads’ can do huge damage to a candidate’s chances. Romney’s Super PAC spent around $5 million attacking Newt Gingrich in one state alone, running thousands of ads against him.

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