It wasn’t long ago that Rick Santorum was so obscure a Republican presidential candidate that he had trouble getting customers in Iowa diners to look up from their meals to say hello. But his last-minute surge in the polls before tonight’s Iowa caucuses has thrust the former Pennsylvania senator into the limelight and once again scrambled the critical presidential contest.
After watching others including Rep. Michele Bachman, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich momentarily command the support of the party’s most conservative activists, the boyish-looking Santorum now claims that heady role. And if he manages to come in first or second tonight with solid support from Christian conservatives, he would almost certainly become the strongest threat to former governor Mitt Romney in the upcoming primary battles in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
“You have a very tough choice to make – there are a lot of great candidates,” Santorum, wearing his trademark sweater vest, told as large group at the West Valley High School in Des Moines this morning. But he asserted that he was the candidate who best reflected his party’s values of “bottom-up, entrepreneurial, individual spirit, based upon strong family.”
After running far behind for all of last year and playing mostly a bit role in the 13 candidates’ debates, Santorum last weekend surged to third place in the latest Des Moines Register poll, behind Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
Some analysts predict he will peak tonight, just in time to grab the largest share of Republican votes at the party caucuses around the state. But whether he could mobilize a national campaign after focusing most of his time and meager resources on Iowa remains to be seen.“He's likely to do well in Iowa and get a media bump out of here,” said David Yepsen, a former Des Moines Register political reporter and an expert on the Iowa caucuses. “The question is whether he can sustain it down the road. Subsequent contests happen so quickly he may not have time to ramp up an organization and raise the money he needs to compete in them. New Hampshire's electorate may not be as hospitable to a social conservative like Santorum.”
Santorum is counting heavily on mobilizing Christian conservatives, many of whom backed former governor Mike Huckabee four years ago. In his stump speech, Santorum highlights his considerable experience fiscal policy and foreign affairs, but he primarily offers himself as the campaign’s most aggressive advocate against abortion and same-sex marriage.
“There are a lot of candidates who run who check the box. You know, ‘I’m pro-life,’” Santorum said late last week, according to The Washington Post. “The question is, number one, do you feel comfortable going out there and advocating for a culture of life?”
The former two-term senator from Pennsylvania, 53, has distinguished himself by having visited all 99 counties in the state (Rep. Michele Bachmann has done the same) and logging more miles there than any of this GOP rivals. While Santorum’s profile in Congress as a social-issues crusader bought him entrée with influential evangelical conservatives in Iowa, his unrelenting attack on liberals also seems to have fueled his rise.
Back in July 2005, when his then-new book, It Takes A Family, was first published, Santorum told The Washington Post: “I am certainly concerned about the war on terror and our resolve to defeat terrorism in spite of the costs. I am concerned about, as I've said in the book, the state of the American family and our ability internally to deal with the problems that face future generations of Americans here at home. I'm concerned about our ability to compete in a global economy, making sure the government works to make a competitive economy. Those are probably my top three concerns.”
Married and a father of seven, Santorum has aligned himself with the Tea Party fiscally. A lawyer by training, he has said that he favors job creation through private business expansion and supports a reduction in government regulations. He’s also called for overhauling Social Security.
Santorum has called for a major economic plan that empowers American families and creates new jobs with a “smarter and simpler tax code.” His proposals, among other things, would:
- Cut and simplify personal income taxes by cutting the number of tax rates to just two - 10% and 28% returning to the Reagan era pro-growth top tax rate.
- Simplify the tax code and reduce middle income taxes by eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and eliminating the estate tax.
- Lower the Capital Gains and Dividend tax rates to 12% to spur economic growth and investment
- Reduce taxes for families by tripling the personal deduction for each child
- Reduce and simplify taxes for families by eliminating marriage tax penalties throughout the federal tax code
- Retain deductions for charitable giving, home mortgage interest, healthcare, retirement savings, and children
- Cut the corporate income tax rate in half to make businesses competitive around the world, from 35% to 17.5%
Santorum has publicly supported Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap for America” budget plan to overhaul Medicare and cut federal spending. Santorum has said he is opposed to raising the debt ceiling unless the legislation is linked to spending cut measures to get “our exploding debt under control.”
As for health care reform, Santorum has said President Obama’s new health care reform law should be repealed. “Every American should have access to high-quality, affordable health care, with health care decisions made by patients and their physicians, not government bureaucrats,” Santorum says on his website. “America needs targeted, market-driven, patient-centered solutions to address the costs and underlying causes of being uninsured rather than a one-size fits-all, government-run health care system.”