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Rick Santorum heads to Iowa, one eye on 2012

The Republican ex-senator will speak at an economic forum and an antiabortion event next month. He hopes to rally support among conservatives who feel Obama's presidency is 'injurious to America.'

September 20, 2009|Josh Drobnyk

WASHINGTON — Corn, cows and presidential wannabes: The mere mention of Iowa, let alone a stop in the state, can take a politico from the party bench to its starting lineup. And so it goes with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), whose planned Oct. 1 trip has brought him back to the national stage, with the 2012 presidential contest as a backdrop.

The trip will last only hours, with speeches at an economic forum and an antiabortion event. But the effect of touching down in a state whose voters have a huge impact on presidential politics -- home to the first electoral contest every four years -- has already been felt.

Santorum was thrust into a rebuttal role for the GOP last week as President Obama was making stops in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

"A lot of people are going to take a look and see what they can do to confront this presidency, which many of us believe is injurious to America," Santorum said in a call with reporters organized by the Republican National Committee.

The political wind that swept Santorum from the Senate in 2006 has changed, his supporters argue. Conservatives are clamoring for a voice. And Santorum, a favorite of the right during his time in Congress, speaks their language.

"You get the sense that there is this longing for someone to emerge," said Santorum's media consultant, John Brabender. "It is amazing to me the encouragement that he is getting."

Santorum has spent his post-Senate career at the political periphery. He's a senior fellow at a Washington think tank, writes a column in the Philadelphia Inquirer and appears frequently on Fox News.

The memory of Santorum's landslide defeat by Democrat Bob Casey three years ago is likely to pose a significant hurdle. But the political environment in the next presidential race could be more similar to 1994, when Santorum was elected to the Senate as Republicans swept to power, than 2006, said Franklin & Marshall College political science professor G. Terry Madonna.

Still, don't expect Santorum in New Hampshire any time soon, Brabender said. "People are going to make comments about what they thought about the trip" to Iowa, he said, "and I'm sure Rick will use that in his mind to try to figure out if and when there is a next step."

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drobnyk@mcall.com

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