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By Andrew Rafferty

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said the surprise success of his 2012 White House run changed the debate within the Republican party, but he’s now “ready to change this nation" with his second presidential bid.

The GOP runner-up four years ago officially kicked off his campaign Wednesday with a blue collar message focused on protecting American workers and the middle class.

“I know what it’s like to be an underdog,” Santorum said during a rally at a factor near his boyhood home in Cabot, Pennsylvania. “Four years ago, well, no one gave us much of a chance. But we won 11 states. We got four million votes, and it’s not just because I stood for something. It’s because I stood for someone -- the American worker.”

Santorum was able to solidify himself as the alternative candidate to Mitt Romney in 2012 by becoming the top choice for Republican voters who felt Romney was too moderate. His candidacy was catapulted after winning the Iowa caucuses, but Santorum still faced a large fundraising disadvantage and found himself tripped up by sticky social issues.

His speech Wednesday, though, signaled his second run would focus more on economics and fairness than social issues. He said the country does not need “another president tied to big government or big money” and called for a flat tax and abolishing the IRS.

He also suggested that even legal immigration has hurt the country, saying millions of unskilled workers have poured into the U.S. over the past 20 years and taken American jobs.

“Hillary Clinton and big business, they have called for a massive influx of unskilled labor. Business does it because they want to control costs. Hillary does it, well, she just wants votes,” he said, referring to Clinton’s immigration proposal that would allow more undocumented workers to remain in the country.

For the 2012 GOP runner-up, the second time around could present even more challenges. Santorum is polling near the bottom of a crowded Republican field, and is in danger of not making the cut to participate in the first debate in August.

Still, Santorum said he is used to getting written off.

“The last race we changed the debate,” he said. “This race, with your help, and God’s grace, we can change this nation.”