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Politics

Despite 2012 Run, Rick Santorum in the Back of the Pack for 2016

June 10, 2013 - 6:00pm

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania continues to prepare for another shot at the Republican presidential nomination -- even though the polls show he is being eclipsed by other conservative candidates.

Santorum proved to be one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 election. Despite a financial disadvantage, he outlasted the likes of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Ginrgich, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry to become the conservative alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. By the time the dust settled, Santorum stood in a clear second place behind Romney, taking 20 percent of the vote and carrying 11 states including the Iowa caucus.

There are generally rewards for Republicans who do well in the presidential primaries -- namely a ticket to the next election cycle. After running in 2008, Romney went on to win the nomination in 2012. Despite an often bloody battle against George W. Bush in 2000, John McCain won the nomination in 2008. Its often the case that whoever wins the silver in the Republican presidential primaries goes on to win the gold the next time out -- as the likes of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bob Dole can attest.

Santorum is clearly gearing up for a second run with appearances in Iowa and helping conservative candidates in Alabama and South Carolina earlier this year. On Tuesday, Santorum celebrated the first anniversary of Patriot Voices, a PAC with which the former senator from Pennsylvania is affiliated.

"Patriot Voices has established itself as an outspoken voice advancing the conservative cause in this country, Santorum said on Tuesday. With issues ranging from reducing government spending to standing up for a strong national defense, exposing the hypocrisy of the Obama administration, fighting to protect our Second Amendment freedoms, and protecting life -- born and unborn -- at every stage, Patriot Voices is standing tirelessly for the values that conservatives hold dear.

"Patriot Voices' most significant achievement in the last 12 months was the defeat of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), Santorum added. This U.N. treaty would have put us under international law when it comes to parenting our special needs children and could have given the government the power, with direction from the U.N., to decide what is best for our children."

As was his habit during his presidential bid, Santorum framed the issue by relating it to his family.

"Karen and I view CRPD through a personal lens because of our daughter Bella, Santorum said. We saw firsthand that some of the healthcare advice we received for Bella could have been harmful to her, and had we not been able to step in and make choices for her care, she may not be thriving the way she is today. CRPD is likely to come up again in the summer of 2013, and Patriot Voices is mobilizing its forces to defeat it once again."

With more than 140,000 members and 400 chapters, Patriot Voices should prove a solid vehicle for Santorum to make a second presidential bid. But there are signs that he peaked in 2012, including a recent poll showing he has slipped considerably in a key state.

On Monday, Public Policy Polling (PPP), a firm with connections to Democrats, released a poll looking at the 2016 Republican presidential primary in Michigan. During the 2012 campaign, Michigan was a crucial battle between Romney and Santorum. Despite his ties to the state, including his father Georges service as governor, Romney won by a narrow margin, taking 41 percent while Santorum took 38 percent. Had Santorum defeated Romney there, the race would have taken on a very different tone.

But despite his strong showing in Michigan last time out, the PPP poll shows Santorum is a non-factor there less than a year and a half later. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tops the Republican field with 18 percent, followed by former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida with 16 percent and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey with 15 percent. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin follows with 12 percent with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida right behind him at 11 percent.

The other candidates follow in the single digits. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas places sixth with 7 percent, followed by Santorum with 6 percent. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana gets 4 percent, while less than 1 percent of those surveyed back Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico. The poll of 334 Michigan Republican primary voters was conducted from May 30 to June 2, with a margin of error +/-5.4 percent.

Its a staggering drop of support for Santorum, prompting questions about whether his strong showing was more the result of conservatives being unhappy with Romney than any affection for the former senator from Pennsylvania.

In the meantime, Santorum looks to remain a political force and, to his credit, continues to punch above his weight. Last week Patriot Voices ran a video attacking former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, on her role in the Benghazi controversy.

Still, as he ponders a second presidential campaign, Santorum will have his work cut out for him to be the force he was in 2012.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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