Flanked by Secret Service members, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum stepped out of a white, unmarked SUV Monday evening to cheers and some jeers.
It was nothing out of the ordinary for a presidential candidate. But this time, it was in Galesburg, right in front of Chez Willy’s restaurant.
Santorum, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, stopped in Galesburg around 6:30 p.m. Monday between campaign events in Moline and Peoria, ahead of Tuesday’s Illinois primary. The short appearance, which amounted to some shaking hands and a brief interview, drew a large crowd to Seminary Street, and certainly not all were Santorum supporters.
“I’m here to, if possible, make (Santorum) aware that the policies he is advocating affect real people,” junior Anna Novikova said, adding that it is “easy to vilify” gays and women as a group of people.
“Putting a human face on these policies is the main reason that I’m here,” she said.
As Santorum exited his car, some protesters booed, but soon they were drowned out by cheers and chants of “Rick! Rick!”
Santorum walked over to the crowd and shook hands with button-bearing supporters, as well as Knox students and Galesburg residents.
Santorum held a brief interview with local Channel 8 news, the Galesburg Register-Mail and The Knox Student, during which he directed much criticism toward GOP frontrunner and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
“He’s a government heavyweight,” Santorum said. “He believes in big government, just like Barack Obama.”
Santorum criticized Romney’s record on job creation, saying that Romney was 47th out of 50 in terms of job creation as Massachusetts governor.
“I think we can do a lot better,” Santorum said. “Romney thinks being president is like being CEO of a company.”
Santorum also talked briefly about how, as president, he would cut federal funding for higher education grant and loan programs.
“All levels of government have to be cut back,” Santorum said, pointing to the recent “explosion of Pell grants and student loans.
“President Obama has talked about tying college loans to rates of inflation,” Santorum said. “I think it shows a growing frustration among people in this country about putting federal dollars into an education system that continues to drive costs out of control and expects the federal government to subsidize it.”
Other Knox student protesters, like Novikova, expressed their discontent with Santorum’s ideas about equality and human rights. One of them, junior Kate Haslem, sported a poster that read “Men of quality respect women’s equality.”
“I think he’s out of touch, and he doesn’t understand women’s equality and human rights,” Haslem said. “Taking away a woman’s right to choose is inhumane.”
And criticism among protesters did not only come from U.S. citizens. Freshman Peter Buiting, who is from Holland, carried a poster which read “You lied about Holland” in Dutch and English.
Buiting objected to Santorum’s claim earlier this month concerning euthanasia in the Netherlands. Santorum said that 10 percent of all deaths in the country are from euthanasia, and many instances of euthanasia are forced upon the elderly.
“This is absolutely untrue,” Buiting said. “And he doesn’t have the right to involve my country in his election.”
Buiting also took issue with Santorum’s religious views. Buiting, like Santorum, is Catholic and said Santorum misrepresents some aspects of the religion.
“He has completely different priorities, and Catholic social teaching is much less neo-capitalist than what he is teaching,” Buiting said. “I blame him for taking so much pride in what he believes is living a Catholic life.”
According to The New York Times delegate count before Tuesday’s Illinois primary, Romney is leading the pack with 521 delegates, followed by Santorum with 253. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul trail them with 136 and 50, respectively.
There are 54 delegates at stake in the Illinois primary.
Managing Editor Sheena Leano contributed to this report.