Image: Rick Santorum, Thomas Howard
Jim Cole  /  AP
In this May 31, 2011, file photo former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum shakes hands with New Hampshire state Rep. Thomas Howard before touring Rugar Firearms in Newport, N.H.
updated 6/6/2011 12:28:15 PM ET 2011-06-06T16:28:15

Two decades ago, Rick Santorum took the House by storm as a freshman rabble-rouser who gave the complacent Republican leadership fits.

One decade ago, Santorum vaulted into the Senate GOP leadership as a young firebrand whose conservative zeal later helped cost him his seat in Congress.

Now, in a new decade, Santorum is back.

At 53, he's entering the Republican presidential race no longer offering himself to voters as a rising star or the next big thing, but as the tried-and-true candidate conservatives can count on — like an old shoe that fits better than anything new.

  1. Other political news of note
    1. Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

    2. Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California

"Someone who's been there for many, many years talking about the same issues in the same way is what a lot of folks, a lot of conservatives, are looking for," he says.

Long a favorite of religious and social conservatives for his staunch opposition to gay rights and abortion, Santorum joined the GOP field on Monday as a longshot driven by his belief that religion deserves a stronger role in public life.

"To me there are truths out there," Santorum said recently in an AP interview. "There are things that are right and things that are wrong. That may not be popular and it may lose you an election, but that's OK."

Story: Santorum kicks off 2012 bid in Pennsylvania

Santorum may have lost some swagger since his days as a congressional upstart, but he's betting that the same conservative fire that worked against him when he lost his seat in Congress will be a big advantage in GOP primaries and caucuses often dominated by the right.

He's selling authenticity.

"He says things that are combustible," said Terry Madonna, a professor and pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania. "He's hard-charging and high-octane. ... But he's very direct. You don't have to worry about double-speak with him. He is what he is."

Faith and politics
Santorum's conservatism is deeply rooted in his faith.

He grew up in a devout Catholic family in Butler, Pa., the son of an Italian immigrant father who was a psychologist and a mother who was a nurse.

Video: Santorum kicks off 2012 presidential bid (on this page)

"You had to be on your deathbed not to go to Mass," said his younger brother, Dan.

Butler was a mostly blue-collar town with lots of ethnic churches, Rick Santorum recalled.

"Those characteristics of hard work, loyalty, family and church were very much drummed into me," he said.

Dan Santorum said his brother had a deep competitive streak, evident when he played baseball, chess and board games like Risk. He hated losing.

"He still does," said the younger Santorum. "But he's not a sore loser. He's not a quitter. That's served him well in politics."

During college at Penn State, Rick Santorum drifted a bit from his faith before meeting his wife, Karen Garver Santorum.

"The beautiful thing about it is we grew in our faith together," Santorum said. "We wanted that to be the grounding for our marriage."

That faith has been tested. He and his wife have seven children. Another child, Gabriel Michael, died in 1996, two hours after an emergency delivery.

The couple slept with the bundled dead baby's body in their hospital room that night, wanting to keep Gabriel in their arms until the burial. They took Gabriel's body home so their other children could see and hold the baby before burying him, according to Karen Garver Santorum's book, "Letters to Gabriel."

"Daddy and I wanted to hold you for as long as we possibly could," she wrote.

The couple's youngest child, 3-year-old Isabella, was born in 2008 with trisomy 18, a genetic disorder. Fewer than 10 percent of those diagnosed with the condition live to their first birthday.

Santorum says his daughter's illness cut both ways as he debated whether to run: He wanted to spend as much time with her as possible, but he also felt the need to fight for "children like Bella and for the dignity of human life."

"These children are simply denied care because they don't have long life expectancies," he told the AP. "They're not seen as useful economic units."

Comeback campaign?
Santorum has doggedly laid the groundwork for what he hopes is his comeback campaign. He's been a frequent visitor to New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina, states that vote early in the nominating season. His back-to-better-days campaign slogan: "Fighting to make America America again."

But his candidacy will have to overcome hurdles, including low name recognition and the lack of a strong fund-raising organization. He also has to hope supporters aren't scared off by his 18-point loss in the 2006 Senate race.

Santorum was elected to the House in 1990 at age 32. He shot to prominence as one of the "Gang of Seven" freshman Republicans who bucked their leadership and helped to expose fellow lawmakers who had abused checking privileges at the now-defunct House bank. In 1994, the scandal helped the GOP capture control of the House.

That same year, Santorum beat Democratic Sen. Harris Wofford and emerged as a conservative force to be reckoned with in the Senate, attaining the No. 3 leadership spot in the chamber.

He successfully pushed a bill that banned late-term abortions. In 2005, Time magazine named him among the nation's 25 most influential evangelists.

Santorum held his Senate seat for 12 years before losing in 2006 to Democrat Bob Casey, the son of a popular former governor, as part of an anti-war, anti-incumbent tide.

Story: Santorum kicks off 2012 bid in Pennsylvania

Controversy over his conservative views hurt him as well.

Santorum drew sharp criticism after saying in 2003 that he believed states had the right to ban gay sex or other private behaviors "antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family." He brought up a pending Supreme Court case over a Texas sodomy law and said, "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery."

His words sparked protest, particularly among gay rights supporters and Democrats.

Santorum later said his remarks were in the context of a past Supreme Court ruling on privacy and were not meant as "a statement on individual lifestyles."

Since losing his Senate seat, Santorum has given speeches and worked at a conservative think tank and as a cable news channel commentator.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explainer: The 2012 GOP presidential field

  • A look at the Republican candidates hoping to challenge Barack Obama in the general election.

  • Rick Perry, announced Aug. 13

    Image: Perry
    Sean Gardner  /  REUTERS
    Texas Gov. Rick Perry

    Mere hours before a major GOP debate in Iowa (and a couple of days before the high-interest Ames straw poll), the Perry camp announced that the Texas governor was all-in for 2012.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas governor.

    While some on ground in the early-caucus state criticized the distraction, strategists applauded the move and said Perry was giving Romney a run for his money.

    Slideshow: A look at Gov. Rick Perry's political career

    He may face fierce opposition from secular groups and progressives who argue that his religious rhetoric violates the separation of church and state and that his belief that some groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America, should be allowed to discriminate against gays is bigoted.

  • Jon Huntsman, announced June 21

    Image: Jon Hunt
    Mandel Ngan  /  AFP - Getty Images file
    Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman

    Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, made his bid official on June 21 at at Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former governor of Utah.

    He vowed to provide "leadership that knows we need more than hope" and "leadership that doesn’t promise Washington has all the solutions to our problems."

    The early days of his campaign were clouded with reports of internal discord among senior staffers.

    Slideshow: Jon Huntsman Jr.

    Huntsman, who is Mormon, worked as a missionary in Taiwan and is fluent in Mandarin. But his moderate credentials — backing civil unions for gays and the cap-and-trade energy legislation — could hurt him in a GOP primary. So could serving under Obama.

  • Michele Bachmann, announced on June 13

    Image: Michele Bachmann
    Larry Downing  /  REUTERS
    Rep. Michele Bachmann

    Born and raised in Iowa, this Tea Party favorite and Minnesota congresswoman announced during a June 13 GOP debate that she's officially in the running for the Republican nomination.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Minn. congresswoman.

    Bachmann tells The Associated Press she decided to jump into the 2012 race at this time because she believed it was "the right thing to do."

    She's been criticized for making some high-profile gaffes — among them, claiming taxpayers would be stuck with a $200 million per day tab for President Barack Obama's trip to India and identifying New Hampshire as the site of the Revolutionary War's opening shots.

    Slideshow: The political life of Michele Bachmann

    But Bachmann's proved a viable fundraiser, collecting more than $2 million in political contributions in the first 90 days of 2011 — slightly exceeding the $1.8 million Mitt Romney brought in via his PAC in the first quarter.

  • Rick Santorum, announced on June 6

    Image: Rick Santorum
    Charlie Neibergall  /  AP file
    Former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum

    A staunch cultural conservative vehemently against abortion and gay marriage, the former Pennsylvania senator hopes to energize Republicans with a keen focus on social issues.

    He announced the launch of a presidential exploratory committee on FOX News, where he makes regular appearances. He make his run official on June 6 in Somerset, Pa., asking supporters to "Join the fight!"

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Pennsylvania senator.

    No stranger to controversy, Santorum was condemned by a wide range of groups in 2003 for equating homosexuality with incest, pedophilia and bestiality. More recently, Santorum faced criticism when he called Obama’s support for abortion rights “almost remarkable for a black man.”

    Slideshow: Rick Santorum's political life

    Since his defeat by Democrat Robert Casey in his 2006 re-election contest — by a whopping 18 percentage points — Santorum has worked as an attorney and as a think-tank contributor.

    A February straw poll at CPAC had him in twelfth place amongst Republicans with 2 percent of the vote.

  • Mitt Romney, announced on June 2

    Image: Mitt Romney
    Paul Sancya  /  AP file
    Former Massachusetts Gov. and presidential candidate Mitt Romney

    The former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate has spent the last three years laying the foundations for another run at the White House — building a vigorous political action committee, making regular media appearances, and penning a policy-heavy book.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Mass. governor.

    In April, he announced, via YouTube and Twitter, that he'd formed an exploratory commitee. Romney made his run official in Stratham, N.H., on June 2.

    The former CEO of consulting firm Bain & Company and the president of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Romney frequently highlights his business background as one of his main qualifications to serve as president.

    Slideshow: Mitt Romney's life in politics

    To capture the nomination, Romney will have to defend the health care overhaul he enacted during his governorship — legislation that bears similarities to the Obama-backed bill despised by many conservatives. He'll also have to overcome the perception of being a flip-flopper (like supporting abortion rights in his 1994 and 2002 bids for office, but opposing them in his '08 run).

    In the first quarter of 2011, he netted some $1.8 million through his PAC "Free and Strong America."

  • Herman Cain, announced on May 21

    Image: Herman Cain
    Brendan Smialowski  /  Getty Images file
    Talk show host Herman Cain

    Cain, an Atlanta radio host and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, has support from some Tea Party factions.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Atlanta radio host.

    An African-American who describes himself as a “citizen’s candidate,” he was the first Republican to form a formal presidential exploratory committee. He officially entered the race in May, telling supporters, "When we wake up and they declare the presidential results, and Herman Cain is in the White House, we'll all be able to say, free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, this nation is free at last, again!"

    Prior to the release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate, Cain rehashed the birther theory, telling a Florida blogger, “I respect people that believe he should prove his citizenship ... He should prove he was born in the United States of America.”

  • Ron Paul, announced on May 13

    Image: Ron Paul
    Cliff Owen  /  AP file
    Rep. Ron Paul

    In 2008, Texas congressman Ron Paul’s libertarian rallying cry — and his opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — did not fall on deaf ears. An idiosyncratic foe of the Federal Reserve and a passionate advocate for limited government, Paul mounted a presidential run that was characterized by bursts of jaw-dropping online fundraising.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas congressman.

    Slideshow: Ron Paul

    He officially launched his 2012 campaign in New Hampshire, saying, ""The revolution is spreading, and the momentum is building ... Our time has come."

    In the first quarter of 2011, raked in some $3 million through his various political organizations.

  • Newt Gingrich, announced on May 11

    Image: Newt Gingrich
    John M. Heller  /  Getty Images file
    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

    The former speaker of the House who led the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” Gingrich remains a robust presence on the GOP stage as a prolific writer and political thinker. In recent years, Barack Obama has provided a new target for the blistering critiques Gingrich famously leveled at President Bill Clinton.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former speaker of the House.

    In early May, he made his 2012 run official. "I have been humbled by all the encouragement you have given me to run," Gingrich wrote on Facebook and Twitter.

    But a month later, the campaign was practically in ruins — with his campaign manager, spokesman, senior strategists all resigning en masse. Most cited issues with the "direction" of the campaign. But Gingrich vowed to press on.

    Slideshow: Newt Gingrich

    Also at issue: Gingrich’s personal life could make winning the support of social conservatives thorny for the twice-divorced former lawmaker. In a damning interview earlier this year, Esquire quoted one of Gingrich’s former wives describing him as a hypocrite who preached the sanctity of marriage while in the midst of conducting an illicit affair.

    Additional obstacles include his recent criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal plan as “right-wing social engineering" and reports of a $500,000 line of credit to Tiffany’s, the luxury jewelry company.

  • Gary Johnson, announced on April 21

    Image:Gary Johnson
    Jim Cole  /  AP
    Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson

    The former New Mexico governor took a big leap in late April, not by announcing an exploratory committee, but by actually announcing his official candidacy. “I’m running for president of the United States,” he told a couple of supporters and cameramen gathered for his announcement outside the New Hampshire State Capitol.

    He's a steadfast libertarian who supports the legalization of marijuana. He vetoed more than 700 pieces of legislation during his two terms as governor.

Video: Santorum kicks off 2012 presidential bid


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments