Rick Santorum speech focuses on traditional values

Former U.S. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum gives a thumbs up as he leaves the stage after addressing delegates during the second session of the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida August 28, 2012. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

By Samuel P. Jacobs

TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) – Looking back on the lessons of his own presidential campaign, when he was a nettlesome challenge to Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum returned to familiar themes of protecting traditional values in his address to the Republican National Convention on Tuesday.

Lingering tension between Santorum and Romney, who outlasted the former Pennsylvania senator in the Republican presidential primary, was clear in Santorum’s sparing references to Romney. Santorum mentioned his former rival three times during a 14-minute address.

Santorum, a social conservative and vocal opponent of abortion rights, chose to focus on family, beginning with the inspiration of his coal miner grandfather and ending with that of his daughter Bella, who suffers from a severe genetic disorder.

Santorum recalled the many people who greeted him on the campaign trail.

“I grasped dirty hands with scars that come from years of labor in the oil and gas fields, mines and mills. Hands that power and build America and are stewards of the abundant resources that God has given us,” Santorum said.

Santorum’s repeated references to “hands” led David Axelrod, senior adviser to Democratic President Barack Obama to take to Twitter in reaction to Santorum’s address: “All hands, no Mitt!”

The look back on his failed presidential campaign did not fit perfectly with the evening’s forward-looking direction to a possible Romney presidency.

Santorum did echo a central theme of the Romney campaign, which has accused Obama of weakening work requirements in welfare.

The Obama administration’s new rules give individual states more flexibility but do not remove the work requirement. Even so, Republicans have cast Obama’s move as an assault on longstanding welfare-to-work programs.

As the Republican Party tried to focus the evening on the country’s economic condition, Santorum closed with an appreciation of God and the Republican Party’s dedication to pro-life causes.

Santorum’s presence on the convention stage offered a counterpoint to Romney and a reminder of another possible course for the party.

2016?

An outspoken social conservative, Santorum proved a surprising obstacle to Romney’s candidacy, bettering the former Massachusetts governor in 11 state primary contests.

That strong performance already has stirred questions of Santorum’s intentions for the future and whether he would make a much-improved candidate in 2016 should Romney fall to President Barack Obama in the November 6 general election.

When politicians speak during conventions is a symbol of where they stand with the national party and, this year, with the Romney campaign.

The party appeared to pay deference to Santorum by placing him in the late evening hours. His slot was even moved back two hours later than scheduled.

Still, Santorum was kept out of the evening’s brightest spotlight, which was reserved for Ann Romney and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, another Republican frequently tipped as a possible 2016 candidate. Santorum took the podium before the three major television networks went live to the convention in prime time.

Romney’s team allowed Santorum to speak at the convention after the former Pennsylvania senator allowed the Romney campaign to vet the speech.

Another former Romney rival, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, said he had declined to speak because he had refused to allow Romney’s campaign to go over his remarks. But it’s unclear whether Paul would have been given a slot anyway, because he has not endorsed Romney.

John Brabender, a senior strategist for Santorum, said Romney’s campaign advisers read Santorum’s speech “ahead of time, but they put no restrictions on us whatsoever, and they really had no changes whatsoever.”

WARMING TO ROMNEY?

Since exiting the race on April 11, Santorum has kept a low-profile. He endorsed Romney in an email sent to supporters late at night in May — a gesture seen as not entirely wholehearted.

The tentative embrace came after a contentious primary campaign where Santorum tagged Romney as the last person the party should nominate because of Romney’s health care initiative in Massachusetts, a forerunner to the Obama plan.

This summer, Santorum has made rare appearances on Romney’s behalf, but recently he has joined the campaign in challenging Obama’s record on welfare.

Toward the end of his speech, Santorum praised Romney for his support of families and for backing the local control of schools, as well as lowering taxes.

On Wednesday, Santorum will hold a rally in support of Romney, gathering together conservative leaders like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, evangelical leader James Dobson, and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer.

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