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Santorum Tries to Bring Former Bush Supporters on Board

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By Paul Stanley, Christian Post Reporter
January 9, 2012|6:04 pm

If nothing else, two decades of presidential elections have shown that for a Republican to take the White House they must bring together both the social and fiscal wings of the party. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is off to a great start with social conservatives and now has his sights set on the mainstream group that was the bread and butter of former George W. Bush’s campaigns.

Santorum literally rode a “rags to riches” political story before it came to an abrupt end in 2006 – in large due to the unpopular polices of President Bush. But now that the political winds have shifted, he is now trying to attract a more diverse group of GOP voters.

When he first ran for Congress in 1990, Santorum faced an uphill climb by running against an entrenched Democrat who was considered a shoo-in for reelection. He won by a narrow, two percent margin and went on to four years in the House of Representatives before winning a seat in the U.S Senate in 1994.

What got him elected was his uncanny ability, to some a pragmatic side, while keeping a firm foothold on his conservative, right-to-life issues.

Yet what he has failed to do thus far is attract a significant number of “mainstream” Republicans who tend to pay more attention to economic statistics and the size of the national deficit than whether a specific bill on abortion or gay marriage stands a chance of passing. But that could be changing.

What are commonly referred to in political circles as the “Bushies,” or those who remain loyal to President George W. Bush and his inner circle, have for the most part been sitting on the sidelines with their hands beneath them waiting to see which GOP candidate can make it out of the demolition derby with the fewest dents.

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“Some of the Bush folks – especially the mega wealthy types – signed on with Romney this past summer,” said Dennis Berwyn, a North Carolina political adviser. “But most of them have been watching and waiting for the ‘anybody but Mitt’ candidate to survive a few weeks of intense scrutiny and live to tell about it. That man may be Rick Santorum.”

The success of George W. Bush was in no small part due to the number of coalitions he was able to unite in his razor thin win over former Vice President Al Gore.

Gun owners for Bush, Teachers for Bush, Veterans for Bush – the list went on and on. This, combined with the campaign’s ability to unite the economic wing of the party with the Christian coalition vote was a powerful combination.

Fast forwarding to 2012, Romney seems to have no difficulty attracting the mainstream Republican vote, but has all but ignored the social conservatives.

“Mitt Romney has little regard for the social wing of the Republican Party,” direct mail guru Richard Viguerie told The Christian Post in a prior interview. “I think he’s made it quite clear he doesn’t intend to involve more than a select few social conservatives in his campaign or administration.”

So far, Romney has racked up the more prominent endorsements that include President George H.W. Bush, former Vice President Dan Quayle, Gov. John Sununu and a host of other high-profile party elites. But what Romney has been unable to do is capture the broad base of support that benefited the younger President Bush in 2000.

Santorum is stepping up his attacks on Romney’s fiscal and health care policies while he was a Massachusetts CEO. At the same time, he is forcing Romney to come over and talk about social issues that he is not all that comfortable addressing.

While Romney is expected to win New Hampshire by a decisive margin, what political pundits are eagerly awaiting is the contest between the two in South Carolina.

“One thing Santorum has going for him is he does a better job of relating to the ‘working man,’” said Berwyn. “Romney doesn’t seem to have that ability but he certainly has a bigger bankroll.”

 

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