Iowa Dispatch: Becoming Better Candidates

BY Judy Woodruff  January 2, 2012 at 10:55 PM EDT

Whatever voters think of the political views of Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, they have to be struck by how much each has learned on the campaign trail in Iowa over the past year.

Both have run for office before: Bachmann’s in her third term as a member of Congress; Santorum was elected to the House of Representatives, and then the Senate, before losing a race for re-election. But running for president tests the mettle of the most-experienced politicians, and many have failed.

Watching Bachmann over the past couple of days, an observer can’t help but be impressed with her physical stamina, her public-speaking skills, her sense of humor and her ability to withstand icy cold Iowa wind without blinking an eye. All the while, she has to be concerned about keeping up appearances.

Santorum, who was all but overlooked for most of the campaign, has suddenly emerged in the spotlight with rising poll numbers, and he’s trying to make the most of it. With the sort of skill not every politician has, he defends his endorsement of former fellow Pennsylvania senator, Democrat Arlen Specter, as “the right thing for the country,” despite Specter’s pro-choice position on abortion, because Specter didn’t stand in the way of the Supreme Court confirmations of conservatives John Roberts and Sam Alito. A few minutes later, he is compelling in explaining his and his wife’s decision to delay the burial of a son who was born premature, so their other children could meet the sibling who had passed away. It was a noteworthy combination of sticking to principle, and crossing the aisle to work with the other party, in one politician.

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