Santorum plans to woo blue-collar workers in New Hampshire

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum may be best known as an outspoken advocate of conservative social issues.

But in a speech capping off his near-win in the Iowa caucuses Tuesday night, he made plain he wants to introduce another side to New Hampshire voters: Rick Santorum, economic populist.

He insisted that conservatives must make clear they care about the problems of the working-class and not just cut taxes.

“If we have someone who can go out to western Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan and Indiana and Wisconsin and Iowa and Missouri and appeal to the voters that have been left behind by a Democratic party that wants to make them dependent instead of valuing their work, we will win this election,” he said.

He can do it, he said, with a tax plan that eliminates the corporate income tax for manufacturers, in an effort to lure factories back from overseas.

“I believe in cutting taxes. I believe in balancing budgets . . . But I also believe we as Republicans have to look at those who are not doing well in our society by just cutting taxes and balancing budgets,” he said.

In building a strong economy, Santorum told CNN late Tuesday, “we need to make sure the economy’s going to be strong for everybody.”

That message has always been a part of Santorum’s platform. But in the closing days of the Iowa campaign, his stump speech tended to dwell more on defense of the family, his advocacy against abortion and his embrace of conservative Christianity.

Now, having finished just eight votes behind Romney in the Iowa caucuses, Santorum and his campaign have signaled the economic message will move back to the forefront. Their goal is to consolidate votes of Christian conservatives with working- class, blue-collar voters disenchanted with President Obama.

The challenge will be for Santorum to overcome huge disadvantages in fundraising and campaign organization, and to survive the type of sustained scrutiny and attacks on his record that any surging candidate must face.

“God has given us this great country to allow his people to be free, has given us that dignity because we are a creation of his. We need to honor that creation,” Santorum said Tuesday night. “And whether it’s the sanctity of life in the womb or the dignity of every working person in America to fulfill their potential, you will have a friend in Rick Santorum.”

Meeting with reporters late Tuesday, Santorum campaign manager Mike Biundo said the economic message stressed by Santorum in his caucus night speech should make him an appealing candidate in New Hampshire.

“He’s going to take that hard-working, populist message to the Granite State,” he promised.

Biundo declined to contrast Santorum’s sell with that of front-runner Gov. Mitt Romney, who grew up wealthy and helped buy and sell companies as head of Bain Capital. “I think the senator’s record speaks for itself and the governor’s record speaks for itself,” he demurred.

But voters are likely to make the comparison on their own.

Ron Wilson, 68, a Iowa voter from Urbandale who came to see Santorum at a Tuesday afternoon event at Des Moines Christian School, said he thought about supporting Romney. But Wilson, who grew up in a steel mill town in Pennsylvania, ultimately decided to support Santorum. He said he thought the former Pennsylvania senator better understood the problems of working America.

“It’s not about the social issues, though I agree with him on those. It’s that he’s a fighter,” Wilson said. “Romney is seen as an insider, wealthy—lots of money. Santorum comes from a blue-collar state and can talk about blue-collar issues.”

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.
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