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UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

February 11, 2012 at 6:30 AM

In passing: Memories of Nazis and Communism compel two Santorum supporters

"In Passing" posts capture shorter snapshots of places and people we encounter on the road. (Photos courtesy of Alex Stonehill, A.V. Crofts and Flickr Creative Commons/UW Election Eye)

COLORADO SPRINGS — I didn’t expect to do this, Heidi Gutierrez said as she climbed the stage at Rick Santorum’s rally to talk to the waiting crowd. Her small frame was barely visible behind the tall podium, but her words were clear to the hushed audience.

Santorum was delayed in getting to the rally, which took place on Tuesday earlier this week. To engage the crowd at Giuseppe’s Depot Restaurant, Gutierrez spoke of her childhood. She’d grown up in Nazi Germany and spent her teens living under Communism.

“I know what it’s like to give away your freedom,” she said with a noticeable accent. “Once you do, you don’t get it back. Barack Obama is a nice man, but he’s not a ‘true patriot.'”

“I don’t know if we have four more years,” she cautioned. The room erupted in thunderous applause and Gutierrez rejoined her beaming husband, Conrad Gutierrez, in the second row of the crowd.

The two met in West Germany in the 1950s. Heidi was taking nursing classes after successfully passing through a checkpoint of the Berlin Wall. Conrad was stationed there with the United States Air Force. One day, he saw a beautiful girl sitting in a café and “the rest was history,” he said.

Some people go to Germany and bring back beer steins and souvenirs, Conrad joked, “I brought back a pregnant wife!”

Conrad and Heidi Gutierrez photographed at Giuseppe's Depot Diner on February 7, 2012. The couple were attending a Rick Santorum rally in Colorado Spring, CO. (Photo by Ilona Idris/UW Election Eye)

The paperwork moved slowly and Heidi wasn’t granted naturalized citizenship until 1958. The couple moved to California and raised three children, but in 1984 it was time for a change. They migrated to Colorado and gradually involved themselves deeply in local politics.

Conrad served many years as precinct leader and headed up Hispanics for Bush/Cheney. He’s 81 now, but refuses to discharge his precinct until he finds capable hands.

“Some people are officials in name only,” Conrad sighed. He’s waiting for the right person to hand over the position.

Santorum’s personal message of faith, family, and freedom resonates with both of them.

“He’s not corrupted,” Heidi declared. “He speaks from the heart.”

Conrad said that Santorum wasn’t his first pick. He’d been pulling for Newt Gingrich since the beginning, but switched teams after Gingrich’s campaign “self-destructed,” Conrad said.

There was just too much baggage to go against Obama, Heidi said. “You can’t erase your background if you’re in politics.” Santorum, on the other hand, had “conducted himself properly.”

After the rally, the couple told me they trusted Santorum to “turn the country in the right direction.” By the end of the day, the former Pennsylvania senator had swept three states, and it was clear they were far from alone in their conviction.

Comments | Topics: Caucuses, Colorado, Election 2012

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