- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is expected Wednesday to dive into the 2016 GOP presidential race, where he will hope to prove that his second-place finish from four years ago was more than a flash in the pan.

GOP observers, though, say Mr. Santorum will face a larger, tougher field of Republicans, with more competition for the social conservatives who helped power his success in 2012.

“There are a lot of good candidates this go-around, and a lot of people in Iowa and across the country will want to test-drive candidates with that new car smell,” said Bob Vander Plaats, head of the Iowa-based Family Leader, a Christian Conservative group.

Mr. Vander Plaats, who endorsed Mr. Santorum in the 2012 nomination fight, said for him to win again, voters will have to test the other conservatives and find them lacking, saying that Mr. Santorum is “counting on lightning striking twice.”

In a fundraising email Tuesday, Mr. Santorum acknowledged the tough road ahead — but also signaled he’s likely to take another stab.

“If I announce a campaign for president tomorrow, I’m really going to have an uphill battle ahead of me,” Mr. Santorum said. “The GOP field is already crowded, and it’s extremely competitive.”

Mr. Santorum emerged as the anyone-but-Mitt Romney candidate in 2012, coming from behind to win the Iowa caucuses and going on to win a total of 11 nomination contests.

Since then, Mr. Santorum formed Patriot Voices, a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” group that advocates for conservative causes, and was named CEO of EchoLight Studios, a Dallas-based company that makes movies for Christian audiences.

Frustrated with being pigeonholed as solely a social conservative, Mr. Santorum also released another book, called “Blue Collar Conservatives,” in which he argues the GOP must reconnect with working-class Americans.

He also co-authored “Bella’s Gift,” a book about his daughter’s battle with a rare genetic condition called trisomy.

In his fundraising email, Mr. Santorum said he will need to gain instant traction or else be left behind in the dash for money. He’ll also need to show movement in the polls in order to gain a place on stage in the debates, which are likely to use size of support as a threshold.

He is running near the back of the pack in early polls, including a recent Quinnipiac University survey of likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers that found several of his likely rivals are outperforming him among born-again and evangelical Christians — including Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Still, Steffen W. Schmidt, political science professor at Iowa State University, said that Mr. Santorum has “as much of a chance as the rest of what is being called the ‘20 dwarves.’”

He said that Mr. Santorum could benefit from the 200,000 or so supporters that have signed up with Patriot Voices and from the continued support from “the Santorum Sugar Daddy Foster Friess,” alluding to the billionaire who helped fund the pro-Santorum Red, White and Blue Fund super PAC in 2012.

“He also has lots of contacts in Iowa. His message of faith, values, opposition to immigration reform (amnesty), and conservative values sits very well with Iowa voters this year,” Mr. Schmidt said in an email.

But Mr. Schmidt also said there have been some early warning signs for Mr. Santorum, including his poor showing in the recent Southern Republican Leadership Conference’s straw poll, which serves as a barometer for religious conservatives.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson won the poll, followed by Mr. Walker and Mr. Cruz.

Since 2012, Mr. Santorum also lost Mike Biundo, his campaign manager, to Mr. Paul’s political action committee, RANDPAC, and Chuck Launder, who oversaw his caucus campaign in Iowa, to Donald Trump.

Mr. Santorum plans to announce his plans at Penn United Technologies, a manufacturing company near his boyhood home in Bulter County, Pennsylvania.

He would be the seventh high-profile candidate to enter the race.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki also plans to announce his plans this week. Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas are expected to announce their intentions next week.

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