Posted at 03:48 PM ET, 03/19/2012

Rick Santorum invokes spirit of Ronald Reagan in Illinois campaign push

DIXON, Illinois—Rick Santorum sought inspiration from the spirit and vision of Ronald Reagan to give his campaign a last-minute infusion of energy Monday as he campaigned here in the northern Illinois town where the former president grew up.
Rick Santorum speaks in front of a statue of former President Ronald Reagan in Dixon, Illinois, March 19. (JEFF HAYNES - REUTERS)

Santorum invoked Reagan’s positive spirit and optimism, but also used his appearance to continue to attack rival Mitt Romney as a man who will say anything to win the nomination and who lacks the conservative convictions that he said Republican voters should be looking for.

 With a statue of Reagan on horseback behind him, Santorum cast himself as the true conservative in the race for the Republican nomination. He urged people to make their voices heard on behalf of the values Reagan espoused as president and in doing so help to prevent Romney from becoming the party’s nominee.

“A lot is at stake [Tuesday,” Santorum said. “The honor of the town that molded this man [Reagan]. What will Dixon say? Will they stand up and uphold freedom, uphold the legacy of this great man and what he did to this country?”

 As he has done throughout the campaign in Illinois, Santorum attacked Romney for enacting a sweeping health care law in Massachusetts that included a mandate that requires everyone to purchase insurance or pay a penalty.

Calling repeal of President Obama’s health care law the number one issue of the campaign, he said. Santorum said Republicans should not nominate a candidate who gives away the issue.  “Why would the Republican Party nominate someone on the most issue of the day – freedom, Reagan’s freedom – why would we take that off the table. That’s why you have to help me here in Illinois.”

Santorum likened himself to Reagan at a time the former president was an underdog in the 1976 nomination battle that he ultimately lost to former President Gerald R. Ford. He noted that in that race, Reagan fought against the establishment of his own party and went on in 1980 to defeat a Democratic president and usher in a conservative era.

Calling himself as an underdog, Santorum said he is being outspent “five, seven, 10 to one” by Romney. He said that money is going to fund “robo calls, radio ads, television ads – all tearing down, tearing down. No vision. No hope. No promise of what America is to be. We must do better than that.”

As he worked the rope line before and after his remarks, Santorum continued to criticize his rival. He shot back at Romney for calling him an “economic lightweight”. “This is a guy who’s 47th out of 50 in job creation as governor of Massachusetts and he calls me a lightweight,” Santorum said. “I call him a heavyweight. He’s a government heavyweight.”

He was asked whether he regretted the time he spent last week campaigning in Puerto Rico, where he was swamped Sunday by Romney and came away with none of the 20 delegates at stake.

“We stood for the truth in Puerto Rico. Mitt Romney pandered,” he said. “He was down there and while he says that he’s for English being the language of America, he goes down to Puerto Rico and says that Puerto Ricans, 15 percent of them who are fluent in English, can enter the union and not have to speak English… What this man will do for 20 delegates. Now we know his price.”

Santorum began the last full day of campaigning in Illinois by doing a round of television and radio interviews and held his first rally at the Venetian Club in Rockford, where he recalled his Italian heritage and spoke of the threats to the United States he sees if Obama wins another term.

“America’s a country that believes in limited government and unlimited potential for every American,” Santorum said, adding that the president sees a far different America. He said Obama has decided that the best way to solve the country’s problems “is to centralize power” in the hands of a few, believing that everyday Americans “are incapable of handling freedom.”

He continued his tour of downstate Illinois, home to many more conservative Republicans than in the more moderate suburbs around Chicago. But it was in Dixon that conveyed the message of the day for the former senator. He chose as the venue for his rally a plaza named Reagan Way, which is along the Rock River in an area near where Reagan was a lifeguard as a young man.

By  |  03:48 PM ET, 03/19/2012

 
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