- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Rick Santorum is gearing up for another run for president and vows next time he’ll be an even stronger candidate — armed with a retooled message aimed at the working class, an established network of supporters and, perhaps more importantly, a resume that he believes dovetails with the issues conservatives care about most.

Mr. Santorum came out of nowhere to win the Iowa caucuses in 2012, and went on to become the chief candidate for anyone-but-Romney voters who were seeking to stop Mitt Romney, the eventual nominee.

Now the former Pennsylvania senator is eyeing another bid, and an announcement could come sometime in the spring.

“We are putting the pieces together, just trying to build the model and see if it takes off,” Mr. Santorum recently told The Washington Times during an interview in a hotel steps from the White House. “We are trying to raise money, and we put a good team together in Iowa and South Carolina already, and we are working on one in New Hampshire.”

“This candidacy,” he vowed, “will be a very, very different candidacy than the last time around.”

Mr. Santorum went all-in on Iowa in 2012, and it paid off — at the finish line. He never held a lead in the polls, unlike all the other candidates, but he nipped Mr. Romney on caucus night. A recount erased Mr. Romney’s lead.


SEE ALSO: Social conservatives eye Christian vote in 2016


After Iowa, he went on to win 10 other states, drawing a line through the country’s middle from North Dakota and Minnesota down to Louisiana and Mississippi, and he said he did that despite being the chief target for the GOP establishment operation that backed Mr. Romney.

“After Florida, it was Romney and me, and all the guns were trained on me,” he said. “We were still able to win states despite being outspent and being a target. So I sort of feel like we have sort of been through the fire a little bit more than Gov. Huckabee ended up going through in the 2008 race. That I think is an advantage for us.”

Mike Huckabee, the former two-term governor of Arkansas who ran for president in 2008 and has been mentioned as a potential candidate this time too, could contend with Mr. Santorum for the religious conservative vote.

Other candidates contemplating a run include Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, who have broad conservative and tea party appeal; a boatload of former and current governors in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson; and other former presidential candidates like Mr. Santorum, such as retiring Rep. Michele Bachmann and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Craig Robinson, a former GOP operative who now runs the Iowa Republican website, said that he believes Mr. Huckabee is the first choice of social conservatives.

“I think he is kind of like their first love,” Mr. Robinson said.

Mr. Huckabee won Iowa’s caucus over Mr. Romney in the 2008 campaign but took a pass on the campaign in 2012, and many still question whether he would be willing to leave his lucrative gig at Fox News to run again.

For now, Mr. Santorum places about the middle of the pack in caucus polling in Iowa, but he is far down in polling both nationally and in New Hampshire, which is home to the first-in-the-nation primary.

Santorum will have far more competition for conservative and tea party voters and activists this time around,” said Keith Appell, a GOP strategist. “I’m sure he’ll compete fiercely for them, but he may just get caught up in a numbers game.”

“The entire caliber of the field will be a higher level than 2012, and he could easily face a half-dozen or more conservatives with just as much claim to those votes as him,” he said.

Conservatives, though, also say Mr. Santorum is a proven fighter who should not be underestimated.

Mr. Santorum says in his latest book, “Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works,” which he released this year, that the mainstream media got it wrong by trying to pigeonhole him as a social conservative in the 2012 race. He says his target constituency is working-class Americans with whom the GOP has lost touch.

“As many as 6 million blue-collar voters stayed home from the polls, and there’s good reason to believe that a large majority of them would have voted Republicans if they had voted,” he says in his book.

He told The Times that the GOP can transform “from your grandfather’s wealthy suburban corporate Republican party to a service and blue-collar working party, which is, by the way, increasingly what the Republican party is, and who the voters are in America who are frankly disenchanted with both parties right now.”

He said finding the right appeal could reach across economic and racial lines, which could “realign the whole political map.”

On policy, he also says that Republicans must do everything in their power to rescind President Obama’s executive action on immigration, which, he says, violates the Constitution and opens the door for “tyranny that could destroy this country.” The decision could come back to haunt Democrats, he says.

“I guarantee that there are a lot more laws that Republicans don’t want to enforce in the federal government than [there are ones] Democrats don’t want to enforce,” he said. “So if they want to start with a knife fight, well, we are going to have a howitzer.”

Similarly, he says that after the Republican-controlled Senate is sworn in next year that GOP leaders should stick with the rules set up by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, which has stopped Republicans from filibustering presidential nominees.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” he said. “Does anybody doubt that if the Democrats got power back in the United States, the Senate would not revert back to what they were doing before?

“I have no doubt,” he said.

Mr. Santorum also said he was an early opponent of the Common Core education standards, which sets him apart from many of the GOP governors who embraced the standards in their states.

“You have a lot of governors who are going to struggle with Common Core, and if you are an older governor like Huckabee or Bush, who were part of the Common Core deal when everybody was for it, except me,” he said. “I have a pretty strong and clean record on the issue, and most of these governors do not.”

Mr. Bush has suggested that if runs for president, he plans on sticking to his beliefs, including his stance in favor of the Common Core.

“Good for him,” Mr. Santorum said when asked about Mr. Bush’s remarks. Then his longtime consultant, John Brabender, chimed in, “We hope they run ads on it.”

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