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FRIDAY, 25 APR 2014
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Santorum deepens bet on ultraconservative stance
Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum  speaks during a campaign stop at the Christ Redeemer Church, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012, in Cumming, Georgia.  (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a campaign stop at the Christ Redeemer Church, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012, in Cumming, Georgia. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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WASHINGTON: Presidential contender Rick Santorum, perhaps the most conservative leading candidate for the Republican nomination since Barry Goldwater in 1964, is playing to the ultraconservative, evangelical Christian wing of the party for his surge past Mitt Romney in the race to challenge President Barack Obama.

Santorum is finding strength among the highly motivated segment of Republican voters who have tended to dominate party turnout in primary elections and caucuses. He appears to be ignoring the fact that voters turned against his hard-right politics when he was badly defeated in a 2006 bid for a third term in the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania.

The Republican party establishment is believed to be deeply concerned about Santorum eclipsing Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and multimillionaire venture capitalist. Romney still holds an edge in delegates to the party's nominating convention this summer and a huge financial and organizational advantage. But conservatives have shown a deep discontent with his candidacy over his past, more moderate views on sensitive issues such as abortion.

Concerns about Santorum as the possible Republican nominee may be a reflection of the stunning landslide defeat the party suffered in 1964 with Goldwater at the head of the ticket. Not only was he crushed by incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson, but Republican candidates for Congress suffered deeply by association.

So far, Santorum shows no signs of moving to a more centrist political stance. Most recently he said Obama advocates a "world view" that is different from that of most Americans, promotes the ideas of "radical environmentalists" and encourages more abortions by requiring insurers to pay for prenatal tests.

Obama's campaign hit back Sunday, saying Santorum was unfairly attacking the president's faith.

With the U.S. economy finally showing signs of picking up and Obama's favorable ratings on the rise, the Republican nominating contest has pivoted from emphasizing the economy to social issues.

Santorum, a staunch opponent of abortion and gay rights, surged past Romney in recent opinion polls of Republican voters after winning contests in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri on Feb. 7. Several polls have shown Santorum leading in Romney's native state of Michigan, where his father served as governor.

The primaries in Michigan and Arizona on Feb. 28 mark the end of a lull in the state-by-state contests to choose delegates to the party's national convention in late August in Florida.

The two other Republican rivals are former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and the libertarian-leaning Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

Santorum's attacks on Obama reflect an effort to position himself as the leading conservative alternative to Romney by appealing to the bloc of religious voters and supporters of the small government, anti-tax tea party movement.

A day after telling an Ohio audience that Obama's agenda is based on "some phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible," Santorum on Sunday said he wasn't criticizing the president's Christianity.

"I've repeatedly said I don't question the president's faith. I've repeatedly said that I believe the president's Christian," Santorum said.

"I am talking about his world view, and the way he approaches problems in this country. I think they're different than how most people do in America," he said in a broadcast interview.

Santorum said Obama's environmental policies promote ideas of "radical environmentalists," who, Santorum argues, oppose greater use of the country's natural resources because they believe "man is here to serve the Earth." He said that was the reference he was making Saturday when he denounced a "phony theology."

When pressed by reporters after he made the initial remark, however, Santorum did not mention the president's environmental policies. Instead, he suggested that Obama practices one of the "different stripes of Christianity."

Obama's campaign said Santorum's initial remarks Saturday about the president's "phony theology" were another attack on his faith by Republican rivals in a nominating contest that has grown increasingly negative.

"It's just time to get rid of this mindset in our politics that, if we disagree, we have to question character and faith," Robert Gibbs, Obama's former White House press secretary, said in a television interview Sunday.

"Those days have long passed in our politics. Our problems and our challenges are far too great," Gibbs said.

 
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