Santorum off to an early start in the West

February 14, 2012

Rick Santorum, emboldened by a winning streak and national polls that show him neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney, brought his brand of social and fiscal conservatism to a standing-room-only crowd here Tuesday, a move that puts him in front of his competitors in courting Republicans out west.

While Romney has rolled out a string of endorsements from elected officials in Oklahoma, Washington state and Idaho, Santorum has spent the past few days meeting with pastors, condemning the expansion of same-sex marriage laws and of government, and touting his conservative values.

He said that he “fit into Idaho pretty well” because he home-schools his children and is a father of seven.

“That’s not an unusual number for Idaho, I know that,” the former senator from Pennsylvania told a crowd of about 500 people at the ­Coeur d’Alene Resort events center. “You go to some places and people go, ‘What? Seven?’ ”

Santorum has cast himself as the only true conservative in the race for the presidential nomination who can compete with President Obama on issues important to Republicans.

“This is a vision election. This is an election about what kind of vision you have for America,” Santorum said. “Obamacare to me is the best possible grounds on which to focus this election. . . . It is the biggest example of government overreach and involvement into your life.”

As his rivals have focused on bigger states, Santorum has put time into smaller caucus states, betting that he can extend his streak from last week, when he won three contests. Idaho is one of a handful of states that will go to the polls March 6.

Even as Romney, who is set to appear in Idaho on Friday, rolled out top surrogates and endorsements from the region, Santorum sought to gain momentum from his victories last week and told supporters that caucus results will shape the GOP race.

“You will give this country the opportunity to have a clear choice about what path we want for the future of our country,” he said. “And I hope Idaho, the conservative bastion of Idaho, speaks loudly and strongly.”

Santorum was to speak Wednesday in Tioga, N.D., focusing on domestic energy production. He plans an economic address Thursday in Michigan, a state where his campaign has begun to run television advertisements.

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.
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