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Rick Santorum urges Pennsylvanians to restart his campaign

In what some believe will be his last stand in the Republican presidential race, he says his long-standing ties to the state can withstand Mitt Romney's strategy of heavy negative advertising.

April 05, 2012|By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times
  • Rick Santorum receives a pair of boxing gloves from Pennsylvania state Sen. John Eichelberger, left, during a campaign rally outside the Blair County Courthouse in Hollidaysburg, Pa.
Rick Santorum receives a pair of boxing gloves from Pennsylvania state… (Paul J. Richards / AFP/Getty…)

HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. — Kicking off a last-ditch effort to keep his presidential bid alive, Rick Santorum returned to his roots Wednesday, saying he shared the values of southwestern Pennsylvania, where his grandfather worked in a coal mine and he shot his first deer three decades ago.

"I'm very, very proud of the heritage that Pennsylvania represents," Santorum told a few hundred people at the Blair County Courthouse. "Barack Obama four years ago referred to this area of Pennsylvania right here as a place that holds on, clings to their guns and their Bibles. You're damn right we do!"

Santorum, who was joined by his wife, Karen, and six of their seven children, said he would offer the clearest contrast to President Obama on such matters, while his chief GOP rival, Mitt Romney, had staked out positions on issues such as gun control, healthcare, global warming and energy policy that were similar to the president's.

"Give us a chance to go out and make sure that there is a conservative, that there is a principled — principled — nominee of our party, someone who can go out and take it to Barack Obama, make him and his failed policies the issue in this campaign, not our nominee's complicity in those failed policies," Santorum implored.

After losing three more primaries Tuesday night, Santorum is making what many believe is his last stand in his home state.

"We have to win here," Santorum told reporters earlier in the day after eating eggs, hot sausage and Italian bread at Bob's Diner in Carnegie, the Pittsburgh suburb that he represented in Congress.

While campaigning in Pennsylvania, Santorum sprinkles his remarks with accolades for the state, from its role in the nation's founding to the steel manufacturing that built the country's infrastructure and helped win world wars. And he reminisces about his local ties, such as hanging out at a Hollidaysburg soda fountain run by his cousin. He capped the day going bowling with his children in Mechanicsburg.

As Santorum dug in, Romney spent the day ignoring his Republican rival and focusing his attention on Obama.

After speaking to a meeting in Washington of the American Society of News Editors and the Newspaper Assn. of America, Romney ended the day with a rally in front of several hundred boisterous supporters at an iron staircase maker in Broomall, a Philadelphia suburb. Before he took the stage, a group of women began to chant "Women for Mitt!" in response to the gender gap he faces against Obama in current polls.

Romney spent his 20-minute speech attacking what he said were the failed economic policies of the Obama administration.

"This president has a very different view of his last three years than I have," Romney said. "He believes he's doing a good job. He compares himself to the people he considers great presidents of the past — and this was not on 'Saturday Night Live.' … He has made it harder for this economy to recover and for people to get good jobs."

Some Romney supporters in the crowd said Santorum should face the inevitable.

"Santorum should see the light and leave the race," said retired salesman Frank Wolf, 69. "He knows there's no hope for him, and this thing has dragged on long enough."

But Santorum insisted that the race was not over, and brushed aside calls from GOP leaders to unify behind Romney.

"Getting the right candidate is more important than getting the first candidate," he said. "So I'm asking all the folks here in Pennsylvania … to start this campaign anew, to rally behind our team."

He argued that Romney's strategy in past contests — to chip away at Santorum's lead in polls through a blitzkrieg of negative advertising — would fail here because of his long-standing ties to the state, which he represented for 16 years in the Senate and the House.

"You know me," Santorum said. "The biggest rap on me always was that I was too conservative. Now you're going to hear ads about how liberal I am. It's laughable in the state of Pennsylvania that somehow Rick Santorum is a liberal."

Bobbi Yoder, a Duncanville retiree who has admired Santorum for decades, said she expected the race to turn ugly soon.

"I just think it's horrible," she said, adding that she didn't think negative campaigning would work here. "Pennsylvania is his home state."

But even some of his supporters believe his chances of claiming the nomination are remote.

Jayme Orr, 28, met then-Sen. Santorum when she worked at a local baseball stadium, and he nominated her for consideration at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. She attended, and after graduating in 2005, she served 15 months in Afghanistan as an Army platoon leader.

"I think [Santorum's prospects] are slim, but you never know," she said, adding that she agreed the GOP would be better-served by wrapping up the nomination process but planned to vote for Santorum anyway. "He supported me and helped me get into college, so I owe him that."

seema.mehta@latimes.com

Times staff writer Robin Abcarian in Broomall, Pa., contributed to this report.

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