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Santorum Takes Aim at Romney, Palin Santorum Takes Aim at Romney, Palin

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2012

Santorum Takes Aim at Romney, Palin

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Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., at a Capitol Hill coffee shop, trying to give a jolt to his presidential ambitions.(Chet Susslin)

Updated at 8:30 a.m. on January 5.

Rick Santorum the senator didn’t shy from controversy. Apparently, neither will Rick Santorum the presidential candidate.

 

The former senator from Pennsylvania speaks and acts like a man working diligently to become a dark-horse favorite for president. Dark is the operative word: During an hour-long interview with National Journal last week at a busy coffee shop just blocks from the Capitol, no one appeared to recognize the potential presidential candidate.

Santorum is making up for his low profile by taking aim at better-known potential rivals: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. 

In a race where nobody is officially running yet, much less regularly sniping at opponents, the remarks seem designed to help Santorum distinguish his fledgling campaign as he tries to convince conservatives he’s a viable candidate.

 

Palin, whose endorsements of candidates in states such as South Carolina and Alaska shaped the 2010 GOP primaries, is well-liked among Republicans, polls show, but some question whether she’s qualified to be president. Santorum came close to putting himself in that camp.

“I like her a lot, but I’m not too sure that...” said Santorum in the interview. He paused before restating his response.

“Let’s put it this way: I’m not waiting for her to decide whether I’m running for president," he continued. "So, to me, she’s certainly been a net plus to Republican efforts. She was a huge factor in the last election, to me mostly to the good, maybe not all to the good. But 90 percent is pretty good.”

Asked directly if Palin is qualified to be president, Santorum responded: “What does it mean to be qualified to be president? She is born in this country and she’s the right age. Those are the qualifications.”

 

The ex-senator was tougher on Romney, the early favorite, taking aim at his decision to sign a state health care bill that Santorum called a model for "Obamacare." The bill that Romney signed included a requirement that Bay Staters buy health insurance. The health care reform bill that President Obama signed last year includes a similar requirement, and conservatives are making that a focal point of their efforts to have the law declared unconstitutional by the federal courts.

Santorum, who backed Romney in the 2008 GOP primary over the eventual winner of the party's presidential nomination, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., praised Romney as "a good man," but said his support for the health care bill will make it "very hard for us to nominate" him.

“I think it makes it a very tough environment for him,” Santorum said. “And it’s one of the reasons why I look at the field and say we need some other players in the field.”

Santorum says he agrees with Romney that the Massachusetts version, because it was passed by a state, is legal. “I’m with him in the sense he had the right to do it, the states have a right to do it,” said Santorum. “But I don’t think it was the right thing to do.”

Santorum’s bid for the presidency, which is not yet official, might seem quixotic given that he lost his last election decisively. Four years ago, then-Pennsylvania Treasurer Robert Casey defeated Santorum in an 18-point landslide to win Santorum's Senate seat.

But Santorum, who first came to Washington in 1990 as a freshman congressman from western Pennsylvania, argues he has gained more traction than even he expected after 22 visits to three early-primary states—Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. He’s one of the few potential candidates aggressively campaigning in those states, whose caucus and primary voters demand to get to know the candidates personally, and his success there helped funnel a better-than-expected $1.4 million haul for his PAC.

“I mean, if I was getting the door slammed in my face, I would say, ‘Well, maybe next time,’” he said.

Santorum, who was flanked during his interview by longtime political guru John Brabender, said his dedication to retail politics was key to his strategy.

“I think a lot folks think they can sit back and use, whether it’s new media or money or fame, whatever, and sort of sweep the field,” Santorum said. “That may be true: I’m not saying that won’t be true. You’ve got some pretty bright lights, some folks who have deep pockets and folks who have strong bases of support. All of those calculations may be right.

“I don’t have any of those things,” he added. “So I don’t really have a choice but to do it the old-fashioned way.”

Iowa, in particular, is key for Santorum, and he and Brabender acknowledge that exceeding expectations in that state, if not necessarily winning it, is probably essential for him to remain a viable candidate. They each are counting on Santorum’s conservative track record, especially on social issues, appealing to Iowa caucus attendees.

Whom he faces there is still uncertain. Brabender and Santorum say they expect that Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will run. Both acknowledge that Santorum's candidacy could be complicated if either Palin or former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee—both of whom appeal to the same social conservatives they are targeting—enter the race.

The field could be smaller than expected, Santorum said, if President Obama begins to appear less vulnerable, which he acknowledged may be the case because of the many victories the president had in last month's lame-duck session of Congress. Santorum criticized the bills passed during the period, including the New START nuclear treaty, a repeal of the ban on openly gay men and women in the military, and the health care for 9/11 first responders bill, which he said should have been paired with spending reductions. He said his former GOP congressional colleagues should have done more to slow-walk the legislation.

“I think we would have been better off jamming up the trains as best we could and pushing everything off until January,” he said, pointing to the incoming surge of GOP lawmakers. “The net effect of December was a net negative for the country.”

The compromises in the Senate revealed that many moderate GOP senators could defect from the party if the president chooses a more centrist tack his next two years, said Santorum.

“The only reason Senate Republicans stuck together as tightly as they did was because Obama was so far to the left,” he said. “Had he worked at all toward the middle, you see what can happen. There is a soft underbelly in the Republican Senate that was exposed at the end of this election.

“And now, thank God, we have six more Republicans coming in, and they’re not going to be able to get their 60 votes,” he added. “But, you’ll get 58, you’ll get a handful of Republicans on a lot of bad stuff, as they just did.”

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