'Fear Rick's Vest': Santorum's sweaters go viral

By Doug Gross CNN - Republican Rick Santorum may have come up eight votes shy of a win in the Iowa caucuses. But a piece of his wardrobe appears to have emerged as the clear winner: his sweater vests.

While it's go-to outerwear for kindhearted dads everywhere, the sweater vest isn't exactly common among political heavy hitters, who prefer power suits or man-of-the-people, rolled-up shirt sleeves. But on the Web, Santorum's sartorial choice has taken off.

There are Facebook pages devoted to The Vest. And "Fear Rick's Vest" has both a Twitter feed and Tumblr blog, from which it shares its thoughts on the campaign.

How to explain Santorum, who had been under the radar for much of the Iowa race, climbing into a virtual dead heat with Mitt Romney in Iowa? Perhaps it's the "Sweater Vest Surge."

"Now don't get me wrong, I do give Rick some credit," the vest (or a reasonable human facsimile) wrote on the blog. "But let's get real -- everyone time he wears me on the campaign trail, his ratings go up!!!"

In an interview with The New York Times, Santorum said the sweater vest became a trademark of sorts at a debate in December. While the other candidates worked the traditional dark suits, he styled a sweater vest -- and people took note.

After that, he told the Times, "It sort of took on a life of its own. So I started wearing more and more. My staff bought me a bunch more."

Of course, in the heated campaign climate, it didn't take long for some operatives to politicize the vest, tongue presumably in cheek.

"@RickSantorum is such a fiscal conservative he doesn't buy sleeves," tweeted Michael Biundo, Santorum's political director.

Maybe it's an Iowa thing, but the Web isn't new to strange vest celebrations. Hilariously quirky singer/rapper/performance artist Leslie Hall, who hails from Ames, Iowa, has an entire Web site devoted to modeling over-the-top '80s "gem sweaters."

Santorum's vests have joined Hall on YouTube, too, with a video by the candidate's supporters called "Sleeves Slow Me Down."

Whether the love for his vests on the Web will translate into votes remains to be seen. But, if nothing else, maybe it will help counteract Santorum's Google problem.

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