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Ex-Pa. Sen. Santorum to test waters for presidential run

NEW YORK -- Former Sen. Rick Santorum on Tuesday will attend a Tea Party event in Davenport, Iowa, as part of the early groundwork for a 2012 presidential run that he says he is "seriously considering."

The one-time Penn Hills Republican elected to the Senate in 1994 and defeated 12 years later is hoping to tap the conservative trend fostered in part by the Tea Party movement and President Obama's unpopularity.

"I'm exploring it," said Santorum. "I'm looking at it. I am kicking the tires."

He made the comment to reporters Saturday while making the rounds at receptions hosted by businesses, law firms, unions, political leaders and lobbyists at the annual Pennsylvania Society gathering in Manhattan.

Santorum's bid is considered a longshot among a dozen or so potential candidates.

But Mark Holman, former chief of staff and strategist for former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge, said Santorum has "better conservative credentials" than many of the other hopefuls including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

"Rick has a great record that's very well respected. He knows it's an uncertain environment. But he certainly has the ability to tap into the Tea Party," he said.

What Holman meant by an uncertain environment is that two years is light- years away in politics: It can't be assumed that the same voter mood will still exist in 2012.

Palin hasn't said she's running but her potential candidacy is the topic of much speculation.

Former Dauphin County Commissioner Nick DeFraceso, a Republican who briefly ran for lieutenant governor this year, said, "I am excited he is exploring the possibilities." Even if the political landscape isn't exactly the same in two years, the undercurrent of the Tea Party movement will still be there in a Republican primary, he said.

"I'm not aware that he has the big fundraising base" needed for a presidential run, said former Democratic state Senator Craig Lewis, of Bucks County.

Santorum says it's "a wide open race" and voters "want someone with a vision" for America's future.

Santorum lost his Senate seat to Democrat Robert Casey in 2006. He had been elected to the House in 1990 where he gained a reputation as a firebrand as part of the so-called "Gang of Seven" who brought to light a House banking scandal.

State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Center County, said yesterday he is considering running for the U.S. Senate against Casey in 2012.

Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, says she has been approached by Republican party officials who want her to run for the U.S. Senate, but she is far from making a decision.

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