- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2011

Rick Santorum is on the verge of becoming the Republican presidential front-runner. At least, that’s the case if there’s another round of the recurring story line of the 2012 GOP primary race — one candidate after another taking a short-lived spin as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.

Though he has lagged in polls since announcing his candidacy, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania has time to prove he is still the best fit for conservative voters, thanks in large part to the fact that many grass-roots Republicans appear willing to rally around just about any candidate who is not named “Romney.”

“Seems like it’s his turn,” said Craig Robinson, a former political director for the Republican Party of Iowa. “It’s like a carousel.”

On the stump, Mr. Santorum has worked to draw some distinct differences with some of the policy stances Mr. Romney has taken over the course of his political career, while trying to sell voters on the idea that he offers the best chance of winning in a general election because he offers a starker contrast to President Obama.

“Everyone says [Mr. Romney] is the most likely to win the nomination, and the only reason they think he is the most likely to win is that they think he is going to run as a moderate,” Mr. Santorum said during a recent campaign swing through South Carolina. “We’ve shown that when we nominate moderates, as we did three years ago, our people don’t get excited, and they don’t show up, and we lose — not just at the top, but down ballot.”

To become the GOP standard-bearer, Mr. Santorum must leapfrog past rivals (from left) Mitt Romney, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. (Associated Press)
To become the GOP standard-bearer, Mr. Santorum must leapfrog past rivals (from ... more >

Mr. Santorum has staked out hawkish ground on foreign policy, warning that the nation should not pull troops out of Afghanistan until the job is done, and that the U.S. and Israel should be planning airstrikes aimed at preventing Iran from acquiring the capacity to develop nuclear weapons.

He also is touting his reputation as a longtime stalwart on moral issues, a message that is likely to play well with the social conservatives who have a big hand in determining the outcome of the Iowa caucuses, which will kick off the nomination process on Jan. 3.

He also is taking swipes at Mr. Romney’s political career and evolving positions on issues that drive to the heart of party orthodoxy.

“I think even Gov. Romney would admit that he did not run as a conservative when he ran for the governorship of Massachusetts,” he said. “He ran as someone who was in favor of gay rights, in favor of abortion rights, willing to balance the budget with [higher] taxes, against Second Amendment rights.

“When he ran against Ted Kennedy in 1994, the same year I got elected to the Senate, he ran to the left of where he ran as governor,” he said during a recent campaign stop in South Carolina. “Some would argue he ran to the left of Ted Kennedy. How hard is that?”

Afterward, he provided The Washington Times with his basic strategy going forward.

“My feeling is we need to do well in Iowa and light the fuse there, and we think we can do very well in New Hampshire,” Mr. Santorum said. “I think we can surprise a lot of people there. Our hope is that December is a very good month for us, where we start to pick up some steam.”

John Feehery, a GOP strategist, said Mr. Santorum could shock pundits at the Iowa caucuses.

“He could be this year’s version of Mike Huckabee,” he said, alluding to the former Arkansas governor, an ordained minister, who surprisingly won the Hawkeye State in 2008. “He is a true social conservative with no baggage whatsoever.”

Mr. Robinson shared a similar sentiment.

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