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Santorum's values win applause in Ohio

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — Citing the region's rebound from depressed steelmaking to a boom in shale-gas drilling, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum on Monday told supporters that America needs "an energy policy that will develop these resources cleanly and responsibly," not President Obama's radical environmental agenda.

Rallying about 500 people from eastern Ohio, West Virginia's northern panhandle and his native Western Pennsylvania, Santorum criticized the Obama administration for pulling coal permits, stalling the Keystone XL pipeline project and trying to regulate the fracking process that drillers use to tap deep shale formations for oil and natural gas.

He said Obama and his allies want to frighten people about new oil-exploration technologies and called the notion of global warming "political science."

Yet, he earned the strongest applause when talking about family values.

"This is the most important election in your lifetime and you people in Ohio have a chance to make a difference," said the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. "... Understand what is at stake, folks: It is your religious liberty and it is your freedom of speech."

When he praised the nearby Franciscan University as a beacon of light, one enthusiastic supporter shouted: "You are our beacon of light!"

Santorum is campaigning hard in Ohio, where he hopes to upset former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's front-runner status in the presidential race. Though he led Romney in recent polling in Ohio, a Quinnipiac University survey last week found half the state's voters remain open to changing their minds.

Romney yesterday visited Cincinnati, where he pitched his economic plan to employees of Meridian Bioscience.

"I have led four different enterprises and I happen to think one of the criteria for selecting a president ought to be, has this person led something before?" Romney said. "Our current president has not and I think we've seen the consequence of that."

Political strategists consider Ohio a critical win for the eventual Republican nominee because none has won the White House without winning the state.

Among 10 states holding Super Tuesday primaries on March 6, Ohio will award 66 delegates to the Republican National Convention. Santorum is not on the ballot in three of the 16 congressional districts, potentially putting him at a nine-delegate disadvantage.

Ohio's electorate likely will include voters with ultra-conservative views on social issues, which could work to Santorum's advantage, said Christopher Kelley, a political science professor at Miami University of Ohio.

"In 2004, Ohio was one of the states that had the 'protect marriage amendment' on the ballot as a way to flush out more socially conservative voters," Kelley said, noting the issue helped to sway the election toward President Bush.

Rita Lee, 57, of Steubenville said Santorum's Catholic values, which she shares, would make him a "great president."

"He has a great moral compass to lead this country in the right direction," said Lee, a mother of nine and grandmother of 21.

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