Conservative firebrand Santorum in White House re-launch

Conservative firebrand Santorum in White House re-launch
Rick Santorum.

WASHINGTON - Rick Santorum, the dark-horse 2012 US presidential contender whose deeply conservative, often-gruff campaign put nominee Mitt Romney to the test, announced Wednesday he is launching a second run for the White House.

He made it official at an appearance near his childhood home in Cabot, Pennsylvania, where he told a crowd that "we must take back America," and pledged to be the candidate of working-class citizens.

"Working families don't need another president tied to big government or big money. And today is the day we are going to begin to fight back," Santorum said.

It will be a more difficult proposition for him this time around.

With 15 or more prominent Republican presidential contenders as his 2016 rivals, Santorum, 57, is even more the White House underdog than he was four years ago.

While he has years of new material from which to frame a counterpoint to likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Santorum has slipped from national prominence, and his appearances draw smaller crowds than the previous cycle.

His opposition to gay marriage - he said in April he would not attend a loved one's same-sex wedding - remains unshakable, even though legal gay marriage has expanded to 37 states and the capital Washington.

He is staunchly anti-abortion, telling the crowd that "as president I will stand for the principle that every life matters: the poor, the disabled and the unborn." Santorum has also blasted President Barack Obama's Middle East strategy for lack of leadership, saying the US military must take a dramatically tougher approach to the Islamic State group.

"If these folks want to bring back a seventh century version of Islam, then my recommendation is, let's load our bombers up and bomb them back to the seventh century," Santorum said in a May 9 speech.

The former two-term US senator stunned the political establishment four years ago, emerging from virtual obscurity to narrowly winning the Iowa caucuses, the first state-wide vote in the primary nomination process.

He turned his support for blue-collar Americans and conservative Christian values into a surprisingly strong challenge to frontrunner Romney.

'Last person standing'

His underfunded campaign, prone to Santorum's contrarian outbursts - he said president John F. Kennedy's speech on church-state separation made him "want to throw up" - eventually failed, but he lasted longer than anyone expected.

"I ended up competing in 30 states and winning in 11. I was the last person standing," Santorum told a Tea Party gathering in South Carolina in January.

He insists that such a track record gives him the advantage of battle-tested experience. But while the 2012 Republican field was seen as particularly weak, the 2016 crop is anything but.

Santorum's competition includes rock-star senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, fresh faces who insist they can expand the appeal of the Republican Party beyond its traditional white male blueprint.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, popular in the party's conservative wing, may run.

Mike Huckabee, a 2008 candidate and popular Fox television show host returning for another campaign, is drawing on his preacher past to lock in core Christian voters.

There is also Jeb Bush, whose fundraising prowess and name recognition put him in the top tier of candidates, where Santorum is unlikely to land.

With such a deep field, Santorum faces the prospect of not qualifying for the first Republican debate, on August 6, when organizers will accept only the top 10 candidates in recent national polling.

Santorum is on the bubble, according to a RealClearPolitics poll average, which puts him in 10th place with 2.3 per cent support.

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