Santorum launches second presidential run with a populist pitch

Updated

CABOT, Pennsylvania – Former Sen. Rick Santorum launched his second bid for the presidency on Wednesday, casting himself as a conservative populist and a champion of the working class.

“I am proud to stand here among and for you, the American workers who have sacrificed so much, to announce that I am running for president,” the Republican boomed from his stage on the factory floor of Penn United Technologies, an energy manufacturer.

Santorum, who emerged on the national stage in 2012 as a socially conservative alternative to fellow presidential candidate Mitt Romney, grabbed headlines during the previous campaign by saying legalizing gay marriage would lead polygamy and that pregnant rape victims should “make the best out of a bad situation” by giving birth to the child. His far-right, Christian views helped him secure evangelical and grassroots conservative support, but not the party’s nomination. 

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In his second run for the White House, Santorum is likely to focus more on economic populism and championing the middle class, in hopes of growing his base.

“Well what about those politicians, for all those years, what did they do? What did they do for communities across this area and across this country in small town America?” he asked during his announcement speech Wednesday. “They had no plan and they provided no hope and to that I say, ‘no longer.’” 

Santorum supports hiking the minimum wage and has called on the GOP to be “the party of the worker” in addition to business owners and entrepreneurs. As populist politics have grown in popularity on the left, Republicans candidates have been working to try to create their own version. 

“I will take money and power out of Washington and put it back where our Constitution says it belongs, in the people who earn it,” Santorum told the crowd on Wednesday.

That populist message is a big part of “his vision for the future and his rationale for running,” prominent Republican political consultant John Brabender told msnbc earlier in the day. “No one is giving a voice and standing up for working families.”

In his address, Santorum also vowed to abolish the IRS and institute a flat tax, repeal Common Core and every executive order, and cut immigration, earning big cheers for touching on talking points that are hugely popular with his conservative base.

“The last race we changed the debate, this race, with your help and God’s grace we can change this nation,” he concluded.

“I will take money and power out of Washington and put it back where our Constitution says it belongs, in the people who earn it.”
Rick Santorum
The former Pennsylvania senator won 11 states in the 2012 Republican primary. Today, he pitched himself as the candidate whose time had come, arguing that he has the network, infrastructure, and experience to win this time around. 

“I know what it’s like to be an underdog. Four years ago, no one gave us much of a chance, but we won 11 states,” he declared. “We got four million votes and it’s not just because I stood for something, it’s because I stood for someone – Americans.” 

Still, many of Santorum’s stalwart supporters in 2008 have moved on to other campaigns: His 2012 campaign manager, Mike Biundo, was hired by Sen. Rand Paul’s PAC last summer, and Chuck Laudner, who famously drove Santorum across Iowa in the “Chuck Truck,” is working for Donald Trump, who is also mulling a 2016 run.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee – Iowa’s beloved 2008 caucus winner – has sapped much of Santorum’s staff. Politico reports that deputy campaign manager Jill Latham Ryan and Nick Ryan, who ran the pro-Santorum PAC, are working for Huckabee, as are Hogan Gidley and Alice Stewart, former communications staff for Santorum. The Duggar family – a controversial yet popular surrogate Christian family and stars of “19 Kids and Counting” – is also supporting Huckabee after previously backing Santorum.

But Brabender argued that the senator is better situated than ever before. 

“Very quietly he’s built this incredible grassroots organization – it’s what wins Republican primaries quite frankly,” he said. ”I would argue the infrastructure that we have crafted is vastly superior to probably what we were able to put together last time.”

Rick Santorum

Santorum launches second presidential run with a populist pitch

Updated