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Rick Santorum
Associated Press/Photo by Michael Conroy (file)
Rick Santorum

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Campaign 2012 | Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum urges conservatives to rally around Mitt Romney

WASHINGTON—Rick Santorum used his newfound influence in the Republican Party to deliver one message to conservatives Saturday at the Values Voter Summit: Vote for Mitt Romney.

“We have a candidate for president on the Republican side in Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan who get the basic value structure of our country,” he said. “They understand that rights do not come from government.”

Santorum, a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, is a regular speaker at the Family Research Council’s annual event in the nation’s capital, but he rose to prominence after finishing second to Gov. Romney in the 2012 GOP presidential primaries. Since suspending his campaign in April, Santorum has spent most of his time urging his conservative following to fall into line behind Romney.

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“This is the most important election in the history of our country—and it is so whether I’m on the ballot or not,” he told those in the Omni Shoreham Hotel ballroom.

Santorum first thanked conservatives in the audience for their support during his campaign and then started in on Barack Obama, decrying the president’s positions on issues ranging from the economy and foreign policy to welfare reform.

The former GOP candidate also expressed his appreciation for Romney’s video message to the summit the previous day, noting, “I could have given that speech.”

Santorum’s speech Saturday struck a more serious tone than previous speakers who stoked the crowd with jabs at President Obama and proclamations of victory in November. The audience sat in rapt attention as he pleaded with them to get involved.

Tom McClusky, senior vice president for FRC Action, the Family Research Council’s political arm, said Santorum’s presidential candidacy played a vital role for conservatives, even though he didn’t ultimately win. He said Santorum pushed the rest of the field to the right, which is necessary in primaries.

“I think Mitt Romney is better and more solid for the base because of Rick Santorum’s candidacy,” McClusky said.

Santorum, a Catholic, won 11 primaries and became an unlikely champion of conservative values, leaving many to wonder where he might next appear on the political landscape. McClusky said Santorum would be great as a political appointee, but speculated another presidential run may be in his future.

“Rick Santorum has no plans on going away, and we’ll all be better for it,” he said.

If Santorum does run again, recent history indicates he would be a formidable opponent. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and John McCain all finished second in a Republican presidential primary race before later securing the GOP nomination for president.

Romney snub?

By J.C. Derrick

Tony Perkins
AFP/Getty Images/Photo by Mandel Ngan
Tony Perkins

At a midday press conference Saturday at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which sponsors the event, said it was not a slight to conservatives that Mitt Romney did not make a personal appearance at this year's event. Perkins said it would have been very unusual for Gov. Romney to come along with vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who spoke Friday (see “Ryan unveils new offensive,” by Edward Lee Pitts, Sept. 14).

Perkins pointed out that Romney has spoken at the Values Voter Summit in the past and remains a friend of the FRC. “We share significant theological differences, but we both care deeply about the direction of our country,” he said.

Perkins added that the event had almost 2,500 attendees from across the country. He said this year’s strong attendance is in stark contrast to the ambivalence conservative voters showed in 2008.

J.C. Derrick
J.C. Derrick

J.C. is a reporter in WORLD's Washington Bureau. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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