After singing in the choir at St. Thomas More Church in Bethel Park, Pa., in 1990, Rick Santorum would start knocking on doors, trying to pick up support to win a seat in Congress. The persistence paid off then, and the Republican presidential candidate is hoping that same dedication can take him all the way to the White House today.
“He came (to church) with his walking shoes on,” said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., who serves the same district as Santorum did from 1991-95. Santorum also served as Pennsylvania senator from 1995 to 2007.
He used the same winning formula last month to pull off a victory in Iowa, visiting every one of the state’s 99 counties.
After months on the campaign trail in the shadow of Michigan native Mitt Romney, Santorum has used his conservative views to position himself to the right of the former Massachusetts governor and attract GOP support. His calls for smaller government, a focus on faith and family and support for tea party principles have made him a lightning rod conservative on the campaign trail.
After wins in Iowa and a a stunning triple-victory day last week in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri, the candidate is targeting Michigan, hoping to take a bite out of Romney’s support and organizational advantage.
The Virginia-born, Pennsylvania lawyer brings his campaign to Metro Detroit later this week ahead of Michigan’s primary Feb. 28.
“I think Rick Santorum has been really good at making the case that Romney is not the most electable candidate,” said Connie Meech, 44, of Lake Orion, a member of the Greater Oakland Republican Club. “Romney just doesn’t get conservatives excited at all. There’s probably a little bit of a question that if something ever came tough for him, would he stick to his guns?”
Santorum, 53, wasn’t available for comment on this story after several requests. But people who know him or have worked with him said his firm stances on the issues might be his best quality, and throughout his presidential campaign, he has not wavered, as some have accused Romney of doing.
“He is the most conservative of the candidates, and he is the person that has shown, to me personally, a record of being the most conservative,” said Janine Kateff, president of the Greater West Bloomfield Republicans. “At the end of the day we just have to win. Period. And we have to have the best candidate that will beat Barack Obama.”
One of Santorum’s highest profile endorsements came in January from more than 100 social conservative leaders — Evangelical, Catholic and Protestant.
“They felt like they would never have to apologize for supporting him,” said Tony Perkins, spokesman for the January conference and president of Washington D.C.-based Family Research Council, which has not endorsed a candidate
Santorum has been winning over Republicans with his conservative roots, which are deeply based in his Roman Catholic religion, and his ability to stay in a race without the funding Romney has. The man from a blue-collar area outside of Pittsburgh stands behind his family values as the father of seven children, including 3-year-old daughter Isabella, who suffers from a life-threatening chromosomal disorder, Trisomy 18.
He and his wife, Karen, have been married for 21 years.
Santorum’s passion for protecting freedom came from his grandfather, who emigrated from Italy while it was under fascist rule to southwestern Pennsylvania where he mined coal.
In a January column for the National Review, Santorum cited two texts that helped shaped his beliefs as they relate to his role as a public official. The first is the Declaration of Independence, which he said he’s quoted countless times publicly.
The second comes from the Bible.Santorum wrote each person has been created by God with a purpose: “… each with an eternal destiny, and each with equal value, dignity, and worth. Human life must be protected at all costs, as there is nothing else of equal or greater value in our created universe.”
Santorum, who is against abortion, recently told CNN’s Piers Morgan that impregnated rape victims should “accept what God has given to you.” He also has gotten into hot water for his belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.
If elected, he said he plans to repeal President Barack Obama’s the health care reform and will push his plan for patient-driven health care. Santorum has attacked Romney for saying he would keep some aspects of Obama’s plan.
Santorum, like Romney, opposed the auto bailout. He has proposed to “force the federal government to shrink and live within its means by passing a Balanced Budget Amendment and reinvigorate our domestic manufacturing and energy potential,” according to his website.
While in Congress, he supported the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, was part of the effort to bring to light the Congressional banking and post office scandals. He also championed anti-abortion legislation.
Glenn Clark, the former 9th Congressional District GOP chairman, is the Santorum campaign’s grass-roots coordinator in Michigan. Clark was named last week in the first major announcement of a local campaign structure.
“I think Rick Santorum is a present-day Reagan model for a pathway to victory, and people seem to be responding to it in large measure,” Clark said.
“He’s talking about doing everything he can do as America’s chief executive to possibly pull out overburdening regulations and a tax burden for manufacturers that doesn’t make sense.”
Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said all the Republican candidates are effectively identical in the eyes of Michigan voters, but Santorum might be too conservative.
“He was Tea Party guy before the Tea Party was popular and he brags about it. Unfortunately, for him the Tea Party is very unpopular,” Brewer said. “That is not the kind of record that’s going to sell in Michigan.”
Playing ‘well in the U.P.’
While his two appearances in Metro Detroit this week will be the first in the GOP presidential campaign, Santorum has campaigned in Oakland County a number of times for Rocky Raczkowski. Raczkowski lost his bid to unseat Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township.
Romney also supported Raczkowski, who said he wouldn’t endorse Santorum or Romney.
“I think Gov. Romney puts Michigan in play for Republicans,” Raczkowski said. “Both (Romney and Santorum) have a strong emphasis on manufacturing. Their positions are mirrored in many ways.”
Santorum’s beliefs in manufacturing and jobs in American are reflected in his signature fashion statement. After creating buzz for a sweater vest he wore to a formal event hosted by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in Des Moines, Iowa, his campaign began shopping for sweater vests. They had trouble finding American-made ones, though.
One of Santorum’s campaign members called Bemidji Woolen Mills in Bemidji, Minn., and over the past month, the fashion statement has become a critical part of his campaign.
“Main Street America,” said Bemidji Woolen Mills owner Bill Batchelder, describing the personality Santorum portrays in a sweater vest.
Santorum’s campaign has parlayed the look into a financial boost. It ordered about 2,600 Bemidji vests and offers on the campaign website a free vest with every $100 donation.
‘His passion is really honest’
As people, like Batchelder, have learned and seen more of Santorum, support for the candidate has grown. Perkins, who served as a Louisiana state lawmaker at the same time Santorum was in the U.S. Senate, says he thinks Santorum’s 2006 loss made him a better man.
“You can blame other people or you can look introspectively at yourself. As I’ve talked to Rick, he took the introspective route to how he could become a better leader.”
Patty Payne, 45, of Troy, introduced Santorum during one of his 2010 Michigan visits for Raczkowski. At the time, few people at the speech knew about Santorum, but he immediately grabbed the crowd of about 200.
“To look at Rick Santorum you wouldn’t expect much because he looks baby-faced,” Payne said. “He is a phenomenal speaker, incredible and inspiring. … His passion is really honest.”
If Santorum earns the nomination, the consistency and dedication he put to work after church at the start of his political career will be the key reason, supporters say.
“I think in Washington people realize he’s a force of strength,” Murphy said.
Source: The Detroit News