June 6: D-Day for Santorum in state
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum will come home to Western Pennsylvania to announce his presidential bid on June 6, his campaign said Thursday, offering his message of social conservatism and improving middle-class opportunities against the backdrop of coalfields where his immigrant grandfather toiled.
"He will make his announcement in Somerset County, somewhere near to where his grandfather worked in the coal mines in Tire Hill," said Keith Schmidt, a Pittsburgh public affairs consultant coordinating the announcement. He said details weren't finalized.
Santorum, 53, chose to begin his White House campaign where his blue-collar family got its start, Schmidt said. It's a place not far from where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Santorum is expected to make national security a key message in his campaign.
In the Senate from 1995 to 2007, the Republican distinguished himself as a fiscal and social conservative, arguing for a balanced budget and railing against abortion and same-sex marriage. Santorum's divisiveness made him a top target for Democrats and could make winning a national election difficult, political strategists say.
He still speaks with an aggressive tone, characterizing President Obama's foreign policy as an abandonment of American allies and ideals, and criticizing "Democrats and even some in my party" for voting against Rep. Paul Ryan's GOP budget proposal in the Senate on Wednesday. Santorum called fellow Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney "Obama's running mate" because of the health care law he signed as Massachusetts governor.
"There has long been research that shows the candidate who puts forward high degrees of optimism wins elections," said Lara Brown, a Villanova University political science professor. "Certainly, Santorum has not been one that boasted optimism."
A Gallup poll of Republican voters released on Thursday found Santorum tied for eighth in the unsettled field of potential GOP candidates. Romney and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin topped the list, with 17 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Santorum drew 2 percent support, the same as former Govs. Gary Johnson of New Mexico and Jon Huntsman of Utah. Gallup surveyed 971 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents from May 20 to 24. The poll had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points.
Santorum and his wife, Karen, live with their seven children in Leesburg, Va., but maintain a home in Penn Hills, where he often clashed with Democratic leaders.
In the 2008 election, the Penn Hills precinct where the Santorums cast absentee ballots gave Obama a two-vote margin of victory. Democratic committeeman Ed Vecchio unsuccessfully asked Allegheny County elections officials to reject their ballots, saying the Santorums don't live at the Stephens Lane address on their voter-registration forms.
Vecchio's wife, Erin, a former school board member, tried to force the Santorums to reimburse the school district for tuition it paid to educate their children though Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School from 2001 to 2004. She argued taxpayers shouldn't pay for a family not living there. The state paid the district $55,000 in 2006 to settle the matter.
Santorum's troubles in Penn Hills could be part of why he won't announce his candidacy there, said Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg GOP political strategist. "The controversy became a symbol of his problems in 2006, and it plagued him during the entire campaign," when Santorum lost his seat to Democrat Bob Casey Jr.
But, Gerow added, "The reality is, showcasing his family's blue-collars roots was just as important as avoiding Penn Hills."
Santorum laid the groundwork for his campaign months ago, hiring staff and forming steering committees in Iowa and New Hampshire -- the first two states to vote in the 2012 race. He speaks at fundraisers for Republicans and frequently visits important early primary states. In New Hampshire in August, Santorum told the Tribune-Review that he might run.
"I am considering it," Santorum said then. "I'm just seeing ... whether financially it's possible, both from the standpoint of being able to run a campaign and from the standpoint of being able to feed my children."
Santorum chaired the Senate Republican Conference before leaving office. In March 2007, he joined the law firm Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, and he is a senior fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington. Fox News Channel in March suspended a contract with him because of his presumed presidential aspiration.
In a February speech in Washington at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Santorum gave a hint of his coming campaign image.
"People come to this country not because of wealth or even because of opportunity. It's because of what we are -- a people who believe in the dignity of human life, and believe in the stability and strength of the family, and believe in self-sufficiency, and believe in that very basic network of family and community and self," he said.
In April, Santorum and two other GOP presidential candidates -- former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and businessman Herman Cain -- visited Pittsburgh to speak to about 2,500 people attending the National Rifle Association's conference Downtown.