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The Trail: 2012 Presidential News from the Field / CAMPAIGN 2012

Santorum Sharpens Populist, Electability Messages

GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum is stressing his blue-collar roots on the campaign trail.(Ralf-Finn Hestoft)

photo of Naureen Khan
January 14, 2012

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum sharpened both his populist and electability messages in South Carolina Saturday morning, saying “the grandson of a coal miner” is better equipped to relate to blue-collar voters in swing states than “a Bain executive.”

As Santorum’s adversaries in the GOP field, particularly former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have attacked front-runner Mitt Romney’s record at the private equity firm Bain Capital, Santorum has taken a pass, repeatedly saying he would not attack the capitalist system.

Then today the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania struck the theme that his background and upbringing make him more appealing to the parts of the country hit hard by the loss of manufacturing jobs. Those areas of the country, Santorum added, are swing states up for grabs in the general election.

 

“You want to win this election?” Santorum said to a crowd at Tommy’s Country Ham House in Greenville. “Then we’ve got to go to the states where you win the election and it’s Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, North Carolina, Missouri, Wisconsin.

 “I respect Mitt Romney’s career in business, but the grandson of a coal miner who grew up in public housing in a steel town in Western Pennsylvania and whose policies are oriented toward helping those [people] … has a much better chance of winning those states than an executive from Bain Capital.”

 Santorum has made bolstering manufacturing one of the fundamental tenets of his economic plan, and touted his ability to win over “Reagan Democrats” as he tries to make the case that he is more electable than Romney. Santorum’s got company—many of his other rivals are pushing the same message to South Carolinians in advance of its Jan. 21 primary.

 It was a markedly class-based argument for a candidate who frequently attacks the Obama administration for waging class warfare. But it was also softer in tone than the criticism Gingrich and Perry have heaped on the former Massachusetts governor for his work at Bain, such as Perry’s use of the term “vulture capitalist” to describe Romney.

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