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Former Sen. Rick Santorum cautions voters against Obama's presidency

The Pennsylvania Republican tells a gathering of home-schoolers in California that Americans' freedom is at stake if President Obama is reelected.

April 09, 2011|By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times
  • Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. (Alex Brandon / Associated…)

Reporting from Santa Clara — Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said Friday that American rights and liberties were at risk under President Obama and described his healthcare plan as part of a broader plot by Democrats to get Americans "hooked" on entitlement programs.

"You have been given a great gift in growing up and living in the greatest country in the history of the world," the Republican told several hundred home-school advocates gathered here. "But that freedom, that equality, that exceptionalism, is at stake right now in America if we do not replace the current president of the United States."

"Once they have you hooked, once they have you dependent on them for your very life, America as we know it is over," he said.

Santorum, who is deciding on a 2012 presidential run, did not explicitly mention the possibility of a government shutdown in his remarks. In an interview after his speech, he said he believed that Republicans should stand their ground on "bigger things" — including the implementation of the president's healthcare plan — rather than quibble over the size of spending cuts.

But he said he was glad the fight in Washington had broadened into a policy debate — including the question of scaling back federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

"I wouldn't have picked this fight, but now that they've picked it, they've got to play it out," Santorum said. "My concern is that you've got to draw the line on policy, not on a couple billion dollars."

He added that he applauded his fellow Republicans for refusing to back down. But "I wish they would have been a little clearer on what they're fighting for," said Santorum, who on Friday wrapped up a tour of Western states.

In this Democratic-leaning state, the audience he chose has a distinctly Republican allegiance. Home-schoolers showed their political muscle in the 2008 presidential race by helping propel former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to victory in the Iowa caucuses.

Other potential Republican candidates likewise are courting home-schoolers; Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann spoke to a gathering of such voters in Iowa recently.

Santorum, who with his wife has home-schooled six of his seven children, noted in his speech that he won his first race to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990 partly by mobilizing home-schoolers and opponents of abortion rights. (He lost his bid for reelection to the Senate in 2006).

In introducing Santorum on Friday, Michael P. Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Assn. and an organizer for Homeschoolers for Huckabee in Iowa in 2008, noted that he had watched Santorum behind the scenes during the debate over the federal marriage amendment.

"He is a conservative behind the doors, in front of the doors, in front of the cameras, behind the cameras — no matter where he is," Farris said. "He is transparent."

Though Farris cautioned that he was not yet backing any candidate in the 2012 race, he said that perception of Santorum among conservatives — as well as his background as a "home-schooling dad" — could help the politician build support.

The former senator, who stopped in Colorado and Nevada earlier this week and was headed to South Carolina, said he might clarify his plans soon.

Though candidates such as Bachmann have garnered more media attention recently, Santorum described himself as the steady "tortoise" in the 2012 field, overlooked for the moment but perhaps not forever.

"I'm out there — 13 trips to Iowa, 14 trips to South Carolina, my trips to Nevada, talking to groups that can be helpful in this process," he said. "I'm just trying to take one step after another and do my best."

maeve.reston@latimes.com

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