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January 01, 2012

Santorum Gains Ground in Republican Contest

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has seen a surge in the polls ahead of January 3 caucuses in Iowa. Here's more about the former senator and socially conservative candidate.   

Michele Bachmann.  Rick Perry.  Newt Gingrich.  They have all been key contenders in the crowded race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Now another contender is riding a wave of popularity.  

"He's Rick Santorum.  A loving husband, a devoted father, homeschooler and a man of deep faith."

That was Rick Santorum's campaign ad on YouTube.  Santorum, a 53-year-old former senator from Pennsylvania, has seen a surge in the polls.  He served on Capitol Hill for 16 years until he lost his Senate seat in 2006.

A Roman Catholic, Santorum is the father of seven children.

"I call this our Faith, Family and Freedom tour," said Santorum. "A few weeks ago I said we should actually change this sign, to faith plus family equals freedom."

Santorum opposes abortion and the expansion of rights for homosexuals.  His social conservativism appeals to many evangelical Christian voters.  

James Lindsay focuses on domestic politics at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

"And obviously, one of the big constituencies in the state of Iowa are social conservatives, evangelicals, many of whom put a great importance, for example, on U.S. relations with Israel," said Lindsay.

That is a subject Santorum addressed in a debate last month.

"Israelis have the right to determine what happens in their land," he said. "And all of Israel, including the quote, you know, West Bank, is Israeli land."

Santorum's view runs counter to U.S. policy.  Washington has repeatedly pressed Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank.   

Santorum also says he would bomb nuclear sites in Iran, unless those sites were opened to international inspectors.  

Despite Santorum's recent popularity, some political anaylsts say it is not clear how much staying power his campaign has.

Steffen Schmidt is a political scientist at Iowa State University.

"I think Rick Santorum has suddenly been put back on oxygen and has been revived here, coming toward the end, but I'm not sure that Rick Santorum has many other places where he can campaign," said Schmidt. "He doesn't have a lot of money, and so I expect him not to be going much further."

But Santorum has gained ground on the Republican frontrunners.   

And in past campaigns, success in Iowa has helped candidates raise additional money going into the primaries.