Last-minute work continues for Santorum's Cape visit

Friday, March 9, 2012
Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Thursday, March 8, 2012, in Huntsville, Alabama. (AP Photo/The Huntsville Times, Eric Schultz)

Secret Service agents are in town early to ensure his safety. Forty extra tables have been set up in the newly decorated conference hall to accommodate the 700 or so attendees who will dine on chicken, beef or pasta before he makes his remarks. And the airport hangar where he will speak afterward is being readied for the hundreds expected to cheer his arrival.

When Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum comes to Cape Girardeau on Saturday, it will take place only after weeks of preparation -- work that is continuing into the hours leading up to his campaign stop.

"The main thing about this event that has me awe-stricken is the amount of resources it takes to put something like this on," said Holly Lintner, president of the Cape Girardeau County Republican Women's Club that is hosting the annual Lincoln Day event.

The U.S. Secret Service met with event organizers Wednesday night, including representatives of U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, who offered Santorum the invitation. They met Thursday morning with Cape Girardeau Regional Airport manager Bruce Loy. They even delayed a business trip Sheriff John Jordan had scheduled for this weekend in Lake Ozark, Mo., where he was to attend a meeting of the Missouri Sheriffs' Association. Jordan is president of the association.

Now, Jordan will be at the Lincoln Day event, along with other department employees who will be on hand for security.

"If any dignitary comes in, whether they are Republican or Democrat, we are going to have involvement," Jordan said.

From his office, Loy said he has been forbidden from saying which hangar the airport rally will take place in, but he said signage will be posted by the time people arrive.

The federal protection service also quashed a plan to have Santorum work the crowd at Ray's Plaza Conference Center, where he will begin his address at 7 p.m.

"They put the kibosh on that," Linter said. "It was disappointing, but I guess we have to do everything we can to keep him safe."

The doors for the event at Ray's open at 5 p.m. for ticket holders.

Security looks to be tight. No one, for example, can be in the room he's going to come through for 45 minutes before his arrival, she said. Fire marshals have been on hand to make sure the room is safe for what apparently is the largest single gathering in the history of the conference center. They're also preparing for a potential crush of media.

"It's been a real eye-opening experience," Lintner said.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who is slated to serve as master of ceremonies, has told Linter he is battling the flu, making his participation "iffy." Some who bought tickets now say they can't use them and Lintner and others with the club are shuffling them to people who can.

"We've got all these people trying to coordinate, and it's just been crazy," Lintner said.

Still, excitement among local Republicans is building for a campaign stop involving the former Pennsylvania senator, who won three states on Super Tuesday and remains a credible threat to front-runner Mitt Romney.

Madalyn Enzmann, president of the College Republicans at Southeast Missouri State University, plans to be at Lincoln Day to hear Santorum speak, though she has yet to decide which candidate she supports. That's a pretty common theme among those in her group, she said.

"I think all of us are just keeping our eyes and ears open and waiting for the next couple of weeks to reveal who it's going to be," she said.

Emerson's office said Wednesday the response to Santorum's visit has been "overwhelming." In a release, Emerson encouraged those who were unable to get tickets to arrive at the airport between 6:30 and 7 p.m. for the overflow event that is expected to draw at least 200 people.

"I wanted to make sure everyone who wanted to see him was able to, so we scheduled an overflow event and the response to that has been tremendous," she said.

Not everybody is so keen on Santorum's visit. Mark Baker, the former chairman of the Cape Girardeau County Democrats, said the Republican candidates are all scrambling for an ultimate second-place finish to President Barack Obama in November.

"I think the president has a good strategy," Baker said. "Whether you like him or not, you have to concede that the man knows how to run a campaign and he knows how to get elected."

Santorum did see protests during previous stops in Missouri for his hard-line conservative stances on issues like health care, homosexuality and the environment. In Columbia, Mo., a University of Missouri student was arrested for throwing a "glitter bomb" at Santorum.

But Rick Althaus, a political science professor at Southeast and adviser of the College Democrats, said he doesn't expect that to happen here. The group, he said, is fairly inactive at this time of year and many students will be out of town after classes end today.

Santorum is behind Romney in delegates, and many respected Republican party members have thrown their weight behind Romney.

Still, Santorum recognizes the importance of Missouri and its 52 delegates. The Cape Girardeau event comes a week before Missouri holds its GOP caucuses March 17. Some think Santorum will make a good showing here and in other upcoming contests in more conservative states.

Karen Fesler, Santorum's Missouri campaign director, said Santorum has also scheduled a stop in Springfield, Mo., earlier in the day Saturday before he will fly into Cape Girardeau. Fesler, a Southeast graduate, noted Santorum has made other stops in Missouri leading up to the primary in February -- which he won.

"That was a commitment we made to the state," Fesler said. "The primary was a nonbinding primary, but we focused on it. We had a good day on Feb. 7 in Missouri, and we're hoping to have those results transfer into another good day on caucus day."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

3257 William St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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