‘Over-flow crowds’: Local officials allege that Santorum campaign rejects larger space in order ‘to make sure the venue was packed’

Chris Moody

DUBLIN, N.H. -- "Look at the crowds!" Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum exclaimed after a packed townhall meeting here Friday afternoon. "They were out the doors, you can't get folks in!"

Indeed, Santorum spoke to an overflow crowd again in New Hampshire, and the campaign had to turn people away to stand in a separate room where they watched the candidate speak on a projector. Those in the overflow room who had questions were out of luck.

But it didn't have to be that way.

The campaign rejected an offer from the Durbin School, which hosted the event, to move his speech to a larger venue that could have accommodated everyone present, school and law enforcement officials said. The school's gym is next door, but the campaign organizer didn't agree to the plan.

"They wanted to make sure the venue was packed," Andy Hungerford, the school's head of buildings and grounds, told Yahoo News. He said  the campaign told him specifically that the reason was to give the feeling that the crowds were overflowing. He suggested use of the gym after receiving a report that venue organizers in a nearby town were having overcrowding problems.

Tom Vanderbilt, chief of the Dublin Fire Department, confirmed the story.

"We got a gym that fits 500 people and they said no," Vanderbilt told Yahoo News.  "We had a better venue, and they didn't want it."


When asked about the arrangement with the school, Santorum's spokesman denied that the campaign would have rejected an offer for a space that could fit everyone.

"I don't believe the campaign would have turned it down," Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley told Yahoo News. "I can almost guarantee that it wasn't a strategic decision so we could say it was an overflow room." Gidley said he could not elaborate because he was not involved with the planning of the event.

Of course, if the Santorum campaign did deliberately elect to use the smaller venue, it wouldn't have been doing anything out of the ordinary. Managing the optics of an event to maximize the appearance of mass enthusiasm is a classic campaign tactic, and virtually every candidate is guilty of doing it. Nor is this to suggest that Santorum isn't drawing large crowds--Hungerford estimated there were about 300 people here to see the candidate, and Santorum packed a 650-person auditorium Thursday night. Nevertheless, the case of the abandoned school gym does offer an instructive  peek into how these things often work out on the trail.

Other popular Yahoo! News stories:

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.