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TV's Duggar family campaigns for Rick Santorum

The Duggar Family, of reality family television fame, campaigns on behalf of republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum at Moody Bible Church in Chicago. Here the family has pizza at Giordano's in Oakbrook Terrace. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

In the race to win over the heart and soul of Illinois conservatives, Rick Santorum left the heavy lifting Sunday to a busload of evangelicals – one family made famous by reality TV.

The Duggar family, the star of TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting,” hit churches on the city’s North and South sides and ventured out into DuPage County – regarded as a Mitt Romney stronghold – to munch on Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza.

“We’re here to encourage people to get out the vote for Rick Santorum,” the family’s 46-year-old patriarch, Jim Bob Duggar, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “People really have warm hearts here in Chicago, and it’s amazing the growing support for Rick Santorum.”

The oddity of a family with 19 children was only eclipsed by seeing that group – from 24-year-old Joshua down to 2-year-old Josie – shuttling around the Chicago area on the campaign trail, where Santorum was absent Sunday because he spent the day politicking in Louisiana.

Their appearance as a surrogate for Santorum emphasized his efforts to energize his conservative Christian base. It also underscored a strategy of meeting Romney head-on in a part of Illinois’ political map that figures to dictate whether Santorum can pull off a stunning upset in Tuesday’s primary.

Like in Mississippi, where Romney had backing from the Republican Party’s establishment, Duggar said Santorum is capable of a surprise victory in Illinois despite slightly trailing Romney in recent polling.

“I believe the same thing will happen in Illinois. We really believe that he can beat Mitt Romney,” Duggar said. “I think it’ll be a close race.”

With its “19 Kids and Counting” program, the Arkansas family has been on cable television’s TLC channel since 2008 with a wholesome show that chronicles the challenges of juggling the never-ending needs and overwhelming logistical issues for such a large family.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar arrived in Chicago Saturday night while their children got into town about 2:30 a.m. Sunday after campaigning in Missouri and downstate Illinois.

Citing their fundamental Christian beliefs, the couple eschewed birth control after she endured a miscarriage while on the pill early in their marriage, opting to let God “bless them with as many children as He saw fit.”

The couple told that story to about 200 people at New Life Community Church on Chicago’s South Side, where lead pastor Mark Jobe said he asked the couple to avoid politics.

Instead, they stood before the congregation in matching outfits and talked about the role of God in marriage, parenthood and money. Jim Bob Duggar encouraged the crowd to heed God’s call. “Be obedient to what he puts on your heart,” he said.

The family, which had considered supporting Republicans Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann before settling on Santorum last December, also is ardently anti-abortion, advocates home-schooling and opposes special civil recognition for same-sex couples – all positions that align with Santorum.

“We believe Rick Santorum stands for life,” Jim Bob Duggar said. “We believe the current administration and Romney don’t stand for life.”

Contributing: Jon Seidel