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August 29, 2012 | By | Posted in General News

In Tampa, Santorum says ‘American Dream … has strong grip’

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

Rick Santorum campaigns in Iowa in 2011 during his failed presidential bid.

HARRISBURG — Former presidential candidate and ex-U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum brought some grassroots red meat and conservative heart to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday night, stumping for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the end of the convention’s first full day.

Santorum put his personal, genuine twist on the Republicans’ conventionwide theme of “We Built That,” by relating stories of shaking hands with a wide cross-section of America during a grassroots, retail politics campaign that garnered him an almost cult-like following among the social conservative wing of the Republican Party during the 2012 presidential primaries.

“I shook the hand of the American Dream,” Santorum said. “And it has a strong grip.”

As through most of his political career, family was at the center of Santorum’s 14-minute speech.

The biggest applause line of the night for him was a reference to the Republican Party’s pro-life stance, which has become a larger campaign issue at the national level in recent days.

Jeff Coleman, a Harrisburg-based Republican strategist and personal friend of Santorum’s, said the former senator brought much-needed “heart” to a Republican campaign that has been all about the “head” in its focus on economic issues almost exclusively.

“You simply cannot win a national election without some level of passion,” Coleman said. “The script has been focused solely on ‘we did this, I did this,’ and there is something hollow about that messaging.  The life issue that Rick brings is a cause that is bigger than self.”

Charlie Gerow, a Republican delegate at the convention who voted for Romney, said the remarks were “vintage Rick Santorum.”

“I thought he really touched on the concerns and thoughts of working men and women, and everyone here is in complete agreement with his message in support of Romney and Ryan,” Gerow told PA Independent by phone from Tampa.

Santorum’s comments came only hours after Romney officially clinched the Republican nomination for president with the roll call of delegates that took place Tuesday evening in Tampa.

Romney’s former adversary rallied the crowd in Tampa, telling them the former Massachusetts governor would stand against big government and an expansion of governmental dependency that is part of an assault on marriage and the family.

Romney and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, Santorum said, are “dedicated to restoring the home where married moms and dads are pillars of strong communities.”

Ryan is Wisconsin’s 1st District congressman.

Santorum blamed President Barack Obama for opposing school choice and ending work requirements for welfare recipients – part of the historic bipartisan welfare reforms enacted in 1996 that Santorum helped craft.

“It’s a sturdy ladder to success that is built with healthy families, education and hard work,” Santorum said.  “President Obama’s policies undermine the traditional family, weaken the education system.”

Mark Nicastre, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said Santorum’s appearance at the convention was a sign Romney and Ryan had embraced policies rejected by most Pennsylvanians.

The speech “shows that Republicans are more interested in appealing to their Tea Party base than moving our country forward and creating jobs,” Nicastre wrote in an email Tuesday night.

In a statement, the Obama campaign said Santorum’s attack on welfare changes enacted by the president were untruthful and argued that Obama’s policies are moving more people towards work, not less.

During the primaries, Santorum had been particularly critical of Romney’s development of a universal healthcare scheme in Massachusetts that the former senator said was the basis for Obama’s federal healthcare law. On Tuesday night in Tampa, Santorum steered clear of any mention of Obamacare or health care policy in general.

Santorum opened his remarks with a story about his grandfather, who emigrated from Italy and became a coal miner in western Pennsylvania – a story Santorum, fittingly, also told in June 2011 when he announced his presidential bid in Somerset and one that he frequently repeated on campaign trail.

That bid ended in failure, but an impressive grassroots campaign helped him win the popular vote in 11 primaries and threatened – for at least a couple of months – to derail Romney’s presidential aspirations may have re-launched Santorum into the national Republican scene.

In many ways, Santorum might be more at home as a national political figure than he has been in Pennsylvania.

In 2006, voters in the Keystone State handed him a humiliating 18-point loss in his 2006 bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate.  Earlier this year, Santorum brought his presidential bid to a halt after two weeks of campaigning in Pennsylvania when it became apparent he would likely lose the state to Romney.

Coleman said Santorum conveys a feeling of genuineness that most politicians can only hope to achieve, and expects it to parlay into a future on the national scene.

“He has carved out an area with the Republican Party that very few people have,” Coleman said. “It is a personal narrative with a leadership record.”

Santorum was elected to the first of two terms in the U.S. House in 1990, representing a district in suburban Pittsburgh. He moved up to the U.S. Senate in 1994 and served two terms before being defeated by current U.S. Sen. Bob Casey in 2006.

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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