The following ran on the Feb. 28, 2012, ediiton of the Houston Chronicle Texas on the Potomac blog. Political Scientist Cal Jillson provided expertise for this story.
March 9, 2012
While Texas billionaires such as Bob Perry, Harold Simmons and Stephen Oskoui have poured millions into the campaigns of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, Rick Santorum’s biggest supporter in Texas is CEO of a family-owned tomato business.
Joe Murphy, the president and CEO of Murphy Tomatoes in San Antonio, donated to other Republican presidential candidates earlier in the campaign, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry. But Murphy now is 100 percent behind Santorum.
“His basic conservative views and the values he articulates are part of our family gospel,” Murphy said.
Although the three other Republican White House hopefuls have raised far more money in Texas than Santorum, the former Pennyslvania senator was far ahead of his rivals in the most recent poll by the Texas Tribune and the University of Texas.
The poll places Santorum at 45 percent, with Newt Gingrich at 18 percent and Mitt Romney at 16 percent. Texas’ own congressman, Ron Paul, is running last in his home state.
“It’s mostly a question of timing,” said Cal Jillson
, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “Santorum’s rise in the polls to frontrunner status is quite recent.”
Robert Stein, a professor of political science at Rice University, said the disconnect between funding and support is because Texas voters, like Murphy, have been supporting a variety of candidates.
“Donors able to make significant contributions to Super PACs have been giving to our governor and then Gingrich and Romney,” Stein said. “I suspect Santorum did not see any advantage is trying to get smaller ($2,500) individual donations; it costs too much time and money to raise these smaller amounts.”
Since the beginning of the month, Santorum has paid several visits to Texas.
Santorum is the latest in a line of Republican hopefuls Murphy has supported in the last several years. He made a donation to Michelle Bachmann in October 2010, his “preference overall.” In March of 2011 his donated $5,000 to a Romney super PAC. But at the end of September, 10 days after a Public Policy Polling survey showed Rick Perry beating Romney in Texas, Murphy made a $5,000 donation to the Perry campaign.
Murphy said he doesn’t base his donations on the front runner, but candidates who “have the conviction and the standing.” And, of course, “anyone on the Republican tickets- even Ron Paul – would be better than President Obama,” he said.
“At the time (Romney) was the best hope that we had,” Murphy said. “Since Rick Santorum has come and I’ve learned more about him, I would much prefer Santorum to Romney.”
Murphy made his donation of $5,000 to Santorum’s Super PAC in December, two months before he won four states’ presidential contests. Murphy also donated $2,500 to Santorum’s campaign in June 2011.
Murphy’s various donations highlight the roller coaster of Republican candidates this past election season, and Murphy has no idea if Santorum’s campaign will follow the same arc of growing popularity and then a descent into obscurity like so many others.
But Jillson said that polls showing Santorum well ahead are not surprising in a state as red as Texas.
“The primary voters smell a moderate in Romney,” he said.