June 6, 2011 / 11:53 AM / 7 years ago

Santorum launches Republican bid for White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Senator Rick Santorum launched a long-shot Republican bid for president on Monday, pledging an unflinching commitment to conservative policies, including a Medicare reform plan that has proved unpopular with voters.

“We’re going to be in this race and we’re in it to win,” Santorum told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in an interview from his home state of Pennsylvania.

“What people are looking for is someone who has stood by their principles in good times and in bad,” he said before formally launching his 2012 White House bid.

Santorum, 53, known for staunchly conservative positions on welfare reform, abortion rights and homosexuality, criticized President Barack Obama for shattering the faith of voters who elected him in 2008.

“The president took that faith the American public gave him and wrecked our economy and centralized power in Washington, D.C., and robbed people of their freedom,” he said as he declared his candidacy in Somerset, Pennsylvania.

Santorum has been campaigning in states with early contests on the road to the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, including New Hampshire and South Carolina, where he won informal Republican straw polls.

But he is at the bottom of the Republican pack in the national race for the party’s nomination to challenge Obama, a Democrat seeking re-election next year. Santorum garnered only 2 percent support in a Gallup poll of Republicans last month.

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum addresses supporters at a rally to officially announce his candidacy for President of the United States on the steps of the courthouse in Somerset, Pennsylvania June 6, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Cohn

Santorum hopes to build momentum for his campaign by winning the support of social and religious conservatives who play an influential role in the early voting states of Iowa and South Carolina.

Other announced Republican contenders include former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Representative Ron Paul and former Governors Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota.

Santorum could have a tough time expanding his appeal beyond the most conservative wing of the party, however. He lost his bid for a third Senate term in Pennsylvania by a wide 59 percent to 41 percent margin in 2006, after sticking to his support for Social Security reforms that had soured on voters.

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On Monday, he backed a Republican plan to transform the Medicare healthcare program for the elderly into a system that would help beneficiaries pay for private health insurance.

“Seniors can, in fact, do this,” Santorum said. “It does save money and it’s going to be a good thing for them and it’s going to be a great thing for our country.”

The plan, proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, has brought a backlash from voters and prompted some Republicans to back away from it.

But Santorum said his support for Medicare reform remained firm and presented his unwavering positions of the past as a political asset.

“If you look back at what I did and when I did it, people can say: You know what? He may have lost but he didn’t flinch. He stood by what he believed in and he continued the fight through the end,” he said.

Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Bill Trott

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