Rick Santorum’s personal authenticity is drawing young Americans to get behind his campaign, according to a group of young conservatives calling itself Rick’s Army.
The former Pennsylvania Senator has surpassed Ron Paul as the favorite among young GOP voters, according to cumulative vote tallies coming out of last Tuesday’s Mississippi and Alabama primaries.
Joseph “Tex” Dozier, one of the organization’s founders and the grassroots coordinator, says he created Rick’s Army as a way to connect young conservatives with the Santorum campaign.
“Rick’s Army came together quickly after I moved down to Texas wanting to work on local campaigns and on state-based campaigns,” Dozier says. “I wanted to be part of a volunteer effort, so I contacted Tea [Party] activists and contacted local state party activists, but nobody had real leads.”
Dozier then got in touch with a Santorum supporter he knew, hoping to get in touch with the campaign, but no such luck. He was finally able to get the traction he was looking for by connecting with Bret and Alex Harris, who spearheaded a similar effort to get grassroots support for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee during his presidential run, which led to the creation of Rick’s Army.
“We started Rick’s Army and launched Ricksarmy.com as a portal for people to get campaign opportunities, which are things you could have without inside access to the Santorum campaign,” Dozier says. “The website gives us localized discussions and meetings where we can have access to information disseminated by key Santorum supporters, trusted middle men.”
The site also provides ways for Tea Party groups and potential campaign bundlers to connect, along with providing information on how to assist the Santorum campaign in upcoming caucuses and primaries.
“We held a Super Tuesday debate watch party where the average age was 24 or 23, so we were a bunch of really young guys,” he says. “We are developing a brand for the grassroots, which we tag with Rick’s Army to create a coalition of groups on your campaign.”
Rick’s Army also maintains a Meetup site for setting up groups in cities across the country.
“Santorum is able to connect with young people, and the under 30 is a considerable demographic that could post gains for Santorum,” Dozier says. “When I was at CPAC interviewing young people for a Forbes article, I thought I would find a lot of Romney people, but I ended up meeting a lot of college students who say they would pick Santorum.”
Santorum is winning the youth vote along with other non-traditional Republican demographics like blue-collar white voters and rank-and-file union members – all segments of the population Barack Obama needs for re-election.
“Rick Santorum has been outspent in races he has won and has a smaller infrastructure, and where he has ended up losing, he has done so by narrow margins,” he says. “The key point is the grassroots.”
Doizer attributes the wins to Santorum’s ability to relate to voters.
“They like Santorum’s principles,” Dozier said.
Although Rick’s Army only boasts a few thousand members, Dozier hope that if Santorum becomes the nominee, the group will grow. Dozier also suggested that the Republican National Committee (RNC) should pay more attention to the youth vote this year because he believes it is up for grabs.
“It would be good to have national messaging and a national framework,” he said.