- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who rallied religious voters in a 2012 presidential nomination bid, this week signaled a possible run for president in 2016, but he can expect a GOP field far more crowded with social conservatives.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, predicted the Republican primary field will end up being one of the strongest for conservative candidates ever, with potential competitors in former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the 2008 Iowa caucuses; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal all vying for the support of conservative Christians.

“I don’t think there is a front-runner right now,” said Mr. Perkins. As for Mr. Santorum, Mr. Perkins said. “I think he does fit in the mix, but it is a new ballgame.”

Mr. Perkins also said religious conservatives could be drawn to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback if they enter the race.

Mr. Santorum, a Roman Catholic, indicated that if he enters the 2016 fray it will look a lot like his run in 2012, where he harnessed evangelical conservatives and stressed his blue-collar roots as he went from dark horse to winner of the Iowa caucuses.

Since his second place finish to Mitt Romney for the GOP’s nomination in 2012, Mr. Santorum launched Patriot Voices PAC, became the CEO of conservative film making company EchoLight Studios and released a book called “Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America that Works.”


SEE ALSO: Race for 2016 begins in earnest


He also has been a regular at conservative gatherings — though there are some signs that his star power has been eclipsed by the likes of Mr. Cruz, who has won back-to-back presidential preference straw polls at the Family Research Council’s annual Values Voters Summit.

Mr. Santorum finished fourth in the poll this year, behind retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who rose to stardom with a 2013 prayer breakfast speech challenging President Obama and Mr. Huckabee, who now hosts a show on Fox News. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who won re-election this month, also could siphon off some of the support that Mr. Santorum enjoyed in 2012.

Religious conservatives make up a powerful voting bloc within the GOP primary electorate, and particularly in Iowa, which holds the first caucuses. But they often end up splitting among several options, clearing the way for an establishment-backed candidate to win.

Robert L. Vander Plaats, head of the Christian conservative The Family Leader in Iowa, who endorsed Mr. Santorum in 2012, said there is still a lot of good will for the former senator, but that he will face stiff competition if he takes another stab at the White House.

“There is no doubt it looks like it is going to be a stronger field in ‘16 then ‘12,” Mr. Vander Plaats said. “However, I have learned not to underestimate Rick Santorum. And history would tell us never to underestimate the guy who finished second the go around before.”

Steve Scheffler, Republican National Committee member from Iowa and head of the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, said the advantage Mr. Santorum has is that he has a large reservoir of support from people who have been loyal to him.

“He doesn’t have to dig under every rock to get a sense of who the activists are,” Mr. Scheffler said.

Mr. Vander Plaats said the challenge for social conservatives will be to coalesce around a candidate before it is too late, given the wide open nature of the race.

“In that lies the four year perennial problem and that is conservatives will be divided again and the establishment will be coalesced around their guy and he would emerge the winner,” he said. “That is why I think you see the push among conservative to start coalescing.”

Speaking at a Liberty University convocation Wednesday, Mr. Santorum said that the problems facing the nation serve as a reminder of the role his faith plays in his life.

“It provides a lens from which I look at things that is critical to not only understanding the problems that confront our country, but in providing solutions for those,” he said.

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