Rick Santorum has accused President Obama of waging class warfare, of dividing America — “the 99 versus the one,” he says.
But campaigning in recent days in Illinois and Missouri, Mr. Santorum has sought to motivate his followers by highlighting a different divide: urban versus rural. And because many of the nation’s small towns are suffering economically, Mr. Santorum’s approach means he is taking on his own party.
“Think about it, look at the map of the United States — blue being the Democrats, red being the Republicans — it’s almost all red,” Mr. Santorum said Saturday evening. “Except around the big cities.
“And yet when you look at the economic plan that Republicans put forward, it’s all about tax breaks for higher-income individuals who live in those blue areas mostly.”
Mr. Santorum said his proposal for a zero percent corporate tax rate on manufacturing would bring jobs back to small-town America.
In highlighting who would benefit from competing Republican tax proposals, Mr. Santorum seemed to be using urban-rural rivalry as a way to suggest that Mitt Romney, one of his opponents, was the candidate of more liberal city dwellers and that he was the candidate of more conservative rural residents, though polls show that Mr. Romney tends to do well in suburban areas.
"“And if you look at where my Republican opponent has won, it’s always in and around the cities,”"
At a rally on Friday morning in Osage Beach, Mo., Mr. Santorum complained about “all of the experts and pundits” who say that “we’ve got to elect someone who’s more moderate, someone who can appeal to moderates and independents in New York City and Los Angeles” and “Wall Street and corporate boardrooms” — groups whose mention drew boos from many in the audience of about 500.
He told the crowd that an analysis — he did not say whose — showed that he had “won 60 percent of the counties throughout the entire course” of the Missouri contest.
“And if you look at where my Republican opponent has won, it’s always in and around the cities,” Mr. Santorum added, in what seemed to be a clear reference to Mr. Romney, whom he did not mention by name.
“It almost looks like a Republican versus a Democrat, when you look at these states,” Mr. Santorum said. “And he’s winning the areas the Democrats win, and I win the areas the Republicans win.”
“Does that tell you something, maybe?” he said to applause.
In fact, Republican nominating contests tend to turn on the voting in suburban and rural areas, where the party is stronger, with Democrats much more dominant in the cities.
Still, Mr. Santorum used the argument to suggest that he, rather than Mr. Romney, could motivate the Republican base to deliver the party a victory in the November general election.
“If we’re going to win this election, we have to have a candidate who is going to energize our base, get them excited,” he said. “Someone who is authentic. Someone who hasn’t taken every side of every issue throughout their political career.”
On Monday, Mr. Santorum was scheduled to barnstorm across Illinois in a last-ditch appeal for support in the primary on Tuesday. He planned to use a statue of Ronald Reagan at the president’s boyhood home as a backdrop for his speech in Dixon. Other campaign stops were scheduled in Rockford, Moline and East Peoria.
For Mr. Santorum, a victory in Illinois could help ease doubts about whether he could appeal to voters in more moderate northern states where evangelicals do not have an outsize influence in Republican nominating contests.
He signaled the state’s importance during a speech on Saturday afternoon in Effingham.
“This is a pledge,” Mr. Santorum said. “If we’re able to come out of Illinois with a huge or surprise win, I guarantee you — I guarantee that we will win this nomination.
“We will nominate a conservative,” he said, “and we will beat Barack Obama.”