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Santorum says he was the only true social conservative in the race

April 10, 2012|By Seema Mehta
  • Rick Santorum at a campaign appearance March 19 in Illinois.
Rick Santorum at a campaign appearance March 19 in Illinois. (Charles Riedel / Associated…)

LANCASTER, Pa.--Hours after dropping out of the presidential race, Rick Santorum said Tuesday night that he was the sole candidate in the GOP field who had been willing to go beyond a perfunctory commitment to socially conservative causes.

Though the other candidates agreed with him in his opposition to abortion, gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research, Santorum said he was labeled an extremist because of his outspokenness on how issues such as the nation’s economic decline and the growth of government could be directly traced to the breakdown of the American family.

“The people who evaluate the candidates and label extremism understood that I actually believed what I said I believed,” he said, and the crowd at Lancaster Bible College roared in approval. “All the candidates on the dais were social conservatives, but … I was the only one on the dais who actually tried to do anything, who tried to move ball … and I dare say talk about it on a regular basis.

“That was disturbing – now you’re not sticking to the script that’s comfortable,” he said. “You’re talking about things that are controversial.”

Demonstrating that he intended to remain a voice for socially conservative voters, Santorum then railed against amniocentesis tests for pregnant women, saying that the diagnostic tool is promoted  by the medical community to avoid medical liability and to promote abortion to cull the population of children with disabilities while they are in the womb.

“Frankly, I don’t care” about the flack Santorum said he expected to receive. “I know what they are used for.”

His remarks, part of a discussion with evangelical leader James Dobson, came hours after the former Pennsylvania senator suspended his presidential bid. Though he did not directly say why he was quitting the race, earlier he alluded to his youngest daughter’s serious medical condition as well as the delegate math working against him. Santorum did not endorse Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, but he did speak with the near-certain nominee Tuesday, and he received good wishes from others in the GOP establishment, such as formerPresidentGeorge W. Bush, who has not endorsed a candidate in the election. The conversations reflect Santorum’s transformation in the last year, from a political has-been who lost his last electoral contest by 17 points to a viable candidate for the presidential nomination and a spokesman for the party’s most conservative voters.

Santorum was in good spirits at the evening forum before hundreds of religious-minded voters. When Dobson asked what was next for him, Santorum replied, “I’d like to get some sleep.”

While he acknowledged his decision was a turning point, Santorum said it was more difficult for his family than for him.

“I can't say it was an emotional moment for me,” he said. “I know it's a little tougher for the family, always is tougher for the family.... They’re the ones that bear the brunt. You're out there in the arena and your adrenaline's flowing -- you're getting hit and hitting back, and you're sort of going back and forth. It’s different than being on the sidelines and seeing the people, the person that you love, getting hit. It hurts more. And so it was a little tougher for Karen and the kids. They did an amazing job as they always have in standing behind me in every sense of the word."

He also offered new details about life with his 3-year-old daughter Bella, who was born with a rare genetic disorder and was hospitalized over the weekend but was allowed to return home Monday.

“She's a happy, healthy girl,” he said. “Like every other kid she gets sick. The problem is when she gets sick it is life-threatening.”


Santorum said his experience as the father of a disabled child gave him understanding for the difficulties parents faced when confronted with such a diagnosis.

”There's a lot of pressure on moms and dads because of the burden of a disabled child. Look, it is a hardship. A lot of these children require a tremendous amount of care, and I can understand the pain and hardship, but I can tell you as someone who has gone through it, Bella is a great -- we have seven children and they are all a tremendous, great gift. But Bella is, all of the kids would tell you, is a special one," he said.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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