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Campaigning in Ohio, Rick Santorum pushes social agenda and worries some supporters
LIMA, Ohio (AP) ' Rick Santorum sees an America in need of more than economic recovery, warning Saturday that the nation's inattention to conservative social values is "damning people."
"Folks if we know what works, why don't we talk about what works? Why don't we encourage it in our schools? Why don't we encourage it in our culture?" the Republican presidential candidate asked hundreds of people gathered at the Allen County Lincoln Day dinner. "Why are we damning people? Why are we condemning them to a life just because we won't talk about ' we'll talk about childhood obesity until the cows come home. But we won't talk about one of the great underlying causes of childhood obesity, which is the instability of the community, the neighborhood and the family."
Campaigning across Ohio this weekend, the former Pennsylvania senator has been calling for fewer children born out of wedlock and fewer single-parent families. He argues that communities where mothers raise children by themselves have less freedom than those where two-parent families are the norm.
The comments underscore Santorum's commitment to social issues, which helped define his 16-year congressional career and distinguish his candidacy from that of rival Mitt Romney. Despite a pro-choice past, Romney is now just as socially conservative as his opponent on paper, but the former Massachusetts governor has almost singularly focused on the economy while campaigning.
By contrast, Santorum's views on morality sometimes overshadow his prescriptions for the nation's economy. And some Republicans ' even among the hundreds waving signs at Santorum's rally in Blue Ash Saturday morning ' fear he's gone too far.
"He needs to start talking more about the economy and get off the social issues, because I don't think that's what's going to make him president. The economy is going to make him president," said Joan Conradi, a 50-year-old nurse from nearby Mount Healthy, who was holding a "Santorum for President" sign.
Cincinnati-based conservative radio host Bill Cunningham, who like Santorum is Catholic, raised the same concern directly with the candidate during a broadcast Friday.
"When my wife goes to bed at night, and she has rosaries in her hands, I pray as a practicing Roman Catholic you win the presidency," Cunningham said, suggesting that Santorum's focus on social issues would limit him to being a "niche candidate" at best. "I want you to win, but I think the tactics you've employed are not going to result in victory."
Santorum fired back that Cunningham was falling victim to the "media hype."
"They try to say because you have deeply held religious beliefs that somehow or another you're going to impose that on everybody else. That's a bunch of crap," Santorum said. "It didn't happen during my political career, and this is the media again, trying to tarnish anybody who has real strong convictions. Don't you buy in to their fraud."
It wasn't all family values in Blue Ash, where Santorum discussed his plans to improve the nation's manufacturing sector, highlighting his "Made in America" plan that would reduce corporate income taxes on manufacturing from 35 percent to zero. But he returned repeatedly to social issues during the 43-minute speech, as he did the night before in a speech outside Cleveland.
"We can cut government; we can grow the economy. But unless the basic building blocks of our society are strong, then we will not be able to sustain it," Santorum said.
He campaigned Saturday alongside Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, who offered Santorum an indirect endorsement.
"I have seen Rick, who I've worked with in Washington for a number of years, never back away from defending the American family," Perkins said at the Blue Ash rally. "We've got to elect a candidate who understands the connection between our economy and our family."
Santorum did not say specifically how the federal government could address family values. He recently released a tax plan he plans to implement in his first 100 days that would triple the personal deduction for children and eliminate the marriage tax penalty throughout the tax code.
On Saturday, however, he simply called for a national conversation of the nation's top minds to determine how to "reconnect fathers with children" and bring "mothers and fathers together." And he promised not to shy away from talk about God while campaigning.
Another audience member, 48-year-old Kurt Daum, said that he agrees with Santorum's positions. But he isn't sure they'll resonate with the broader electorate in a general election matchup against President Barack Obama.
"I'm worried a candidate like this may polarize too much," said Daum, who was wearing a Santorum sticker on his shirt but said he hadn't determined whom to vote for Tuesday. "I agree with what he has to say there, but when we get to the general population, how much are they going to agree. And can he beat Obama? That's what it comes down to."