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Republican Rick Santorum launches presidential bid

The conservative former senator from Pennsylvania says he wants to protect American freedoms being undercut by Obama.

June 07, 2011|Colby Itkowitz, Washington Bureau
  • Former Sen. Rick Santorum gives a pat to his daughter Isabella Maria, held by his wife, Karen, at a rally in Somerset, Pa., where he officially annouced his bid for the Republican nomination for president.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum gives a pat to his daughter Isabella Maria, held… (Jason Cohn, Reuters )

Reporting from Somerset, Pa. — After a brass-band instrumental fit for a summer blockbuster's battle scene, Rick Santorum launched his presidential bid from ancestral turf Monday, imploring an enthusiastic crowd of several hundred to join his fight for the White House.

"I'm ready to lead. I'm ready to do what has to be done for the next generation, with the courage to fight for freedom, with the courage to fight for America," the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania said from the steps of the Somerset County Courthouse.

A favorite among Republican social conservatives, Santorum, 53, reiterated a stump speech he has delivered for nearly a year in the early voting states. The central theme of his campaign is that God — not government — grants people their rights.

President Obama, he said Monday, is undermining Americans' freedoms.

"The principal purpose of America was to make sure each and every person was free. Ladies and gentlemen, that is at stake now," Santorum said, pointing to the Democrats' healthcare law, loathed by conservatives. "Every single American will be hooked to the government with an IV."

Santorum's announcement, set in a small town with red, white and blue balloons and a band playing such tunes as "Hello, Dolly," harked back to a time in politics before the Internet and social media. The setting was meant to evoke feelings of tradition and patriotism.

And the crowd that gathered by the steps Monday afternoon, in an area that voted Santorum out of office in 2006, was fired up about Santorum's candidacy. Only one man stood with a makeshift sign that said, "No hate in the White House."

The announcement was not short of mini-dramas. The balloons popped sporadically during his speech; Santorum joked that they weren't shots, although he'd taken plenty of them in his political career. Then an elderly woman fainted in the heat, and Santorum stopped speaking, handed off his water bottle and waited by her side until medics carried her away. He asked the crowd to pray for her.

Earlier, as the band played, Santorum supporters filled the courthouse steps. Many held up signs with his new campaign slogan, "The Courage to Fight for America."

Santorum chose the courthouse because of its proximity to the coal mines where his grandfather worked after immigrating to America. Santorum said his grandfather came to Somerset County to escape fascist Italy, not for any entitlements and handouts.

"He knew that America believed in him, believed in people, gave people a shot, if they worked hard, they could succeed," Santorum said. "That's the America my grandfather came to…. That's the America we need again today."

Santorum has tried to convince voters in early states to put aside his most recent political foray, his 17-point loss in the 2006 Senate race. He's won two informal Republican straw polls in New Hampshire and South Carolina but is barely registering in national polls. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that fewer than half of Republican-leaning voters had heard of Santorum, despite his two terms each in the House and Senate.

As he weaved through the crowd, signing autographs and shaking hands, a reporter asked how he'll compete with better-known figures such as Sarah Palin — who is pondering a run — or announced candidate Mitt Romney.

"We had a great reception," he said as his aides guided him away, "and we're going to keep going."

colby.itkowitz@mcall.com

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