A few miles from Giffords shooting, Santorum greets Tucson Tea Party under very high security

Chris Moody

TUCSON, Arizona --The Tucson Tea Party didn't take any chances with security when they hosted Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum at a meeting here Wednesday, just a few miles from where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot last year while meeting with constituents.

"Sen. Santorum is not intending to speak outside, for security reasons," the Tucson Tea Party website announced in advance of the event, which was held at the Sabbar Shrine Center.

Lining up for the event, supporters passed hand-written signs declaring  "NO WEAPONS" and "NO LIQUIDS." Volunteers wearing red t-shirts emblazoned with the local tea party logo stopped each person for a bag check, while beefy private security agents roamed in and out of the building. Police were on hand to direct traffic.

Well before Santorum arrived, Jeffrey Prather—who founded the Tucson-based personal defense training agency Warriorschool—cased the building, taking pictures from several angles in search of possible possible security breaches. Warriorschool led security operations at the center.

"We'd rather be overly cautious with a presidential candidate," Tucson Tea Party lead organizer Ralph Kayser said.

The event involved more than Santorum, though. The Tucson group planned the event to give tea party supporters a chance to scope out not only the presidential candidate, but a host of GOP candidates running for Congress in local districts, with the lesser-known politicos acting as a warm-up show for Santorum. Gabby Saucedo, a candidate for Arizona's seventh district, called her opponent, Democrat Raul Grijalva, "anti-American" and President Obama a "communist." Jesse Kelly, a candidate running in the special election for Giffords' seat, declared, "Praise God Almighty! We're almost done with Barack Obama." And Arizona State Sen. Frank Antenori, who is also running for Giffords' House seat, made a comparison between the position of conservatives in the current election and Kuwaitis in the 1990s.

"I went to Desert Storm," said Antenori, a former Army Green Beret. "We helped train the Kuwaiti Liberation Brigade to lead the Kuwaitis to liberate their own country after it had been taken from them by Saddam Hussein.  Imagine that, having your country taken from you and then having to fight to get it back. We're at that point here in this country."

With the crowd well-primed, Santorum arrived through a back door bearing the sign of the cross on his forehead in observance of Ash Wednesday. He wore a blue blazer over an oxford shirt (sans sweater vest), khakis and cowboy boots. He was flanked by both aides and agents from the Warriorschool, who stood guard in front of the stage while he spoke.

Most of Santorum's 45-minute talk focused on his plan to end illegal immigration and boost manufacturing through tax incentives, though he also criticized Obama for his handling of uprisings in Iran and his administration's energy policy. When he mentioned that Obama spokesman Jay Carney recently blamed Republicans for rejecting the Canadian Keystone Pipeline, a woman shouted, "Liar!"

"Liar and a sissy," an elderly man near the back of the room muttered.

Santorum was also sure to include  jabs against Mitt Romney. Without calling him out by name at first, Santorum alluded to a certain "Johnny-come-lately to the conservative cause." When mentioning Romney's latest tax plan, Santorum said: "Welcome to the party, governor. It's great to have you along."

Santorum urged the audience to examine the past records of each candidate. They would, he said, find that among the available options, he's the conservative they're looking for.

"Look at what these candidates have done in the past. And look at when things were tough, where they ended up," he said. "If you look at the candidates in this race, you'll find one candidate who has been unafraid to go out and find out all of the issues that we care about."

After speaking, Santorum left through  the back door and sped north toward Phoenix to face off with the other candidates for CNN's Republican debate Wednesday night. As the crowd departed, volunteers put away the chairs and filled the room with long rows of tables. It was time for bingo night at Sabbar Shrine.

More popular Yahoo! News stories:

Who would bomb Iran? Santorum, Romney, Gingrich & Paul on the nuclear threat: Character Sketch

Obama, Romney release dueling tax plans

White House warns Iran over inspections stalemate

Want more of our best political stories? Visit The Ticket or connect with us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or add us on Tumblr. Handy with a camera? Join our Election 2012 Flickr group to submit your photos of the campaign in action.