SOMERSET, Pa. — Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was set to announce on Monday what has been expected for months: He is running for president.
Santorum, the former No. 3 Republican in the U.S. Senate and a favorite among his party's anti-abortion rights bloc, planned to make official his White House aspirations from the western Pennsylvania coal fields where his Italian immigrant grandfather worked. He has already hired a small staff and has made frequent visits to early voting states New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina.
The blunt-talking conservative lacks the name recognition and fundraising organization of his better-known rivals, but the two-term senator's advisers are counting on social conservatives who have huge sway in some early nominating states and have yet to settle on a favorite candidate.
So far, those social conservatives are weighing already declared candidates such as former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and potential contenders Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Santorum, a lawyer by training, had been laying the groundwork for a presidential bid when he lost a bruising re-election bid to the Senate in 2006. His opposition to abortion, gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research makes him an appealing candidate for conservatives. But his sometimes abrasive style alienated voters in Democratic-leaning Pennsylvania, and they replaced him with Bob Casey, an anti-abortion Democrat.
Santorum's policy positions align with national conservatives who now are looking at many of the expected candidates with skepticism.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's changes of heart on gay rights and abortion do little to help his second presidential effort. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is twice divorced. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who worked for three Republican administrations, nonetheless accepted President Barack Obama's offer to be the U.S. ambassador to China.
Santorum, 52, has his own hurdles to overcome: He has been out of elective office since 2007 and lacks the robust fundraising or personal wealth of his likely rivals.
Earlier this year, he established a presidential exploratory committee to start raising money and joined the first — though ill-attended — Republican presidential debate in South Carolina. He is expected at next Monday's debate in New Hampshire, which is likely to include more of the expected field.
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