In Iowa, Rick Santorum Testing a Different Message for 2016

Wednesday, 13 Aug 2014 10:11 AM

By Jennifer G. Hickey

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In Iowa, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum sent another signal that he plans to run for president, but that he intends to do so by running on a different message that can reach a wider audience.

Santorum had traveled to Ames, Iowa, last weekend to attend the annual Family Leader Summit, one of the events presidential aspirants attend to make their initial pitches to the state's social conservatives.

Beginning his speech, Santorum said he planned to "do something different" by focusing his speech less on attacking Obama and more on laying out a positive agenda that is necessary if the Republican Party wants to broaden its base.

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He noted that Republicans often speak directly to small business owners despite the fact that only 1 in 10 Americans are entrepreneurs.

"There's a lot of other people in America who are looking to us to see what we can communicate to them," he said, echoing the message in his new book, "Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Work,'' published by Regnery.

Santorum spoke for almost half an hour about expanding U.S. energy policy, investing in infrastructure, proposing to cut the federal gas tax, and eliminating the Common Core education standards, all issues he says can appeal to the "average American" and "reach them where they are."

Naturally, Santorum touched on the social issues, specifically the need to strengthen the family structure and to fight a government that is "not just an idle bystander, but someone who makes it harder to build families" through tax policies and barriers to marriage.

The day before, Santorum did something really different – he said Republican candidates should end the tradition of  channeling former President Ronald Reagan in their speeches.

"Every single Republican that runs, they talk about the same three things on the economy. No. 1, cut taxes. No. 2, shrink the government. No. 3, balance the budget. Can you imagine Ronald Reagan in 1979 giving a speech and saying, 'as Wendell Willkie said'?" It was a laugh line. "Because that's how long ago, 35 years, it was from Willkie to Reagan. Wendell Willkie!" said Santorum at an appearance at a picnic in Boone County, Slate reports.

Santorum, who won the 2012 Iowa Caucus, knows he must do some things the same way, including nurturing existing relationships in Iowa. He maintained connections with the grass-roots activists through his political action committee, Patriot Voices, he told the National Journal.

"We have a pretty good membership here, a pretty active membership. This is a state that is very much connected to national politics, and it's fun to be back in town," said the former Pennsylvania senator.

Santorum is in eighth place among potential GOP presidential candidates with 6 percent, according to RealClearPolitics.

Chuck Laudner, who ran Santorum's 2012 Iowa operations, stressed the importance of connecting with the activists on the ground.

"Iowa has this enormous number of grass-roots activists, people who have different spheres of influence — maybe in their county, or in a region of the state, or some are even statewide," Laudner told National Journal. "Inside the party, outside the party, on issues for candidates, everybody knows them. These are the most important people here."

Another sign of Santorum's seriousness about 2016 might be that two prominent Iowa conservatives — Bob Vander Plaats, the CEO of the Iowa-based group The FAMiLY Leader, and Sioux City pastor Cary Gordon of Cornerstone World Outreach — will accompany him when he departs for Israel on Aug. 17, according to TheIowaRepublican.com.

Santorum has attempted to differentiate himself from other Republican candidates on the issue of immigration, a subject he addressed during a July interview on Newsmax TV's "The Steve Malzberg Show."

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"The sad thing is that … it doubles the level of immigration. We're talking about 50 million new immigrants here in the next 20 years. I'm a first-generation American. I believe in immigration, it's a wise thing,'' he said.

"If we quote 'fix immigration,' we simply create another problem by attracting tens of thousands and millions of more immigrants into this country who will create the next 12 million 20 years from now," he added.

Santorum, 56, served in the U.S. Senate from 1995 to 2007, losing his 2006 re-election bid to Democrat Bob Casey Jr.

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