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Santorum to endorse Cuccinelli in Va. race

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Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum will endorse Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II on Friday in the Virginia governor’s race, according to a copy of his written endorsement obtained by The Washington Post.

“I have known Ken for years and consider him not only a strong leader for conservative principles but a dear friend who I have been proud to stand side-by-side with in the fights crucial to the future of our nation,” Santorum said in the statement.

“As Virginia’s Attorney General, Ken has been a steadfast fighter to overturn ObamaCare and return healthcare decisions back to patients and doctors. Ken is committed to working to reform state government to improve quality and access in health care through greater competition and modernizing health care information technology. ”

Cuccinelli (R) is running to succeed Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), who by law cannot serve consecutive terms. The attorney general is heavily favored to win the Republican nomination, which will be decided at a May 18 party convention.

After Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) suspended his campaign in November, Cuccinelli was left with a single Republican rival: White House party crasher Tareq Salahi. Cuccinelli is expected to go head-to-head with former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe in the general election, though Bolling and Salahi have hinted that they would consider independent bids.

That Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and chairman of Patriot Voice PAC, would endorse Cuccinelli is no great surprise; both are outspoken conservatives who are heroes to antiabortion and tea party activists. Yet Santorum’s early and high-profile nod could be read as an indication that Cuccinelli will focus on firing up the Republican base rather than trying to appeal to swing voters.

Democrats, when informed of the coming endorsement, seemed to relish that prospect.

“Ken Cuccinelli is further proving that his top priority is his divisive ideological agenda that would restrict women’s health-care options and scare away new businesses,” said Democratic Party of Virginia spokesman Brian Coy. “Ideologues like Santorum and Cuccinelli are more focused on dividing Americans with their extreme social agenda than finding mainstream solutions for growing the economy.”

Santorum’s endorsement is one of the first in a race that politicians from around the country are certain to weigh in on — partly because Cuccinelli and McAuliffe both have national profiles, and partly because Virginia is one of just two states with gubernatorial contests next year. (The other is New Jersey.)

Santorum said he has known Cuccinelli since he was “a committed conservative in the Virginia Senate, where he fought government overreach at every turn, worked to reduce taxes, dramatically cut spending and was an unabashed defender of traditional values.”

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