Volunteers Scramble for Gingrich, Santorum Visits

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Byline: Eric Peterson and Melissa Silverberg epeterson@dailyherald.com msilverberg@dailyherald.com

Presidential candidates are well aware that election campaigns are ever-changing works-in-progress, but when it comes to arranging specific site visits like those preceding next Tuesday's Illinois primary, a lot of other people get to learn that as well.

GOP hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will be making visits to the Northwest suburbs this week that are as prominent and well publicized as they are hastily arranged.

And that has kept people like Illinois With Newt campaign Chairman Keith Hanson of Barrington in a frenzy of activity over the past 10 days.

Hanson has had primary responsibility for arranging of six distinct events for Gingrich on Wednesday and Thursday, including an address to students at Barrington High School.

Barrington Unit District 220 Superintendent Tom Leonard said Hanson suggested the possibility of such a visit some time ago during casual conversation at the Barrington Breakfast Rotary Club, of which they're both members.

But it was only on March 5 that Hanson confirmed the address could take place at 9 a.m. Thursday.

District 220 spokesman Jeff Arnett said the most work this brought the district was the creation of a website through which about 300 members of the community could get tickets to join students for the speech in the school auditorium.

But the appearance also has required close contact with the Gingrich campaign, the Secret Service and the Barrington Police Department, represented largely by Police Chief Jerry Libit and the school's resource officer.

Arrangements for the visit have cost the district very little financially, however, Arnett said.

While the district is granting students to opt out if they wish, it's an opportunity that the community has embraced, Leonard said.

"We're apolitical, but it's consistent with our history," Leonard said, explaining that Sen. John F. Kennedy spoke at Barrington High School just weeks before being elected president in 1960, and Sen. Barack Obama was there in 2006 before launching his own presidential campaign.

It's a rare opportunity for students to hear directly from national figures such as Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, Leonard said.

While Gingrich is not reaching out to high school students for votes, Hanson said he hopes at least one student present will be inspired by public service. …