Election 101: Nine things to know about Rick Santorum and his White House bid

Rick Santorum’s 16-year career in politics can be charted through his rigorous positions on hot-button issues: welfare, abortion, gay rights. His boldness has made Mr. Santorum, who announced his candidacy for president June 6, a politician that people either really like, or really don't.

By , Correspondent

1. Why is Santorum running?

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    Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a Presidential Lecture Series sponsored by The Family Leader, at Pella Christian High School in Pella, Iowa on May 2. Republican candidates for president are discovering that the economy and government spending are trumping the usual issues of abortion and gay marriage in socially conservative Iowa.
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Santorum sees himself as the candidate who can best represent social conservatives, political analysts say.

However, Santorum does not see the 2012 campaign simply as a forum to discuss cultural values, observers and supporters say. He wants to tackle jihadism, which he sees as the root of terrorism. He also advocates limiting government, and restoring fiscal responsibility in Washington, says Sam Clovis, a professor at Morningside College and a talk-radio host in Sioux City, Iowa, who has interviewed Santorum three times.

The health-care plan President Obama signed into law in 2010 was “the final straw for [Santorum] in terms of what it means for freedom and the future of the country,” says Richard Girard, an entrepreneur in New Hampshire whom Santorum named to his PAC’s advisory committee in the state. Santorum has voiced concern that the new health-care system will lead to devaluing all human life. Santorum has a personal stake in the issue as the father of seven children, including a daughter who was diagnosed with a genetic disorder, Mr. Girard says.

Santorum’s longtime love of politics and tremendous self-confidence are key factors in a presidential bid, too, says Alan Novak, who served as chairman of the Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania. Santorum’s political acumen has helped catapult him to two improbable victories in Congressional races. In 1990, he won a House seat in the Pittsburgh suburbs by ousting seven-term incumbent Rep. Doug Walgren. In 1994, he narrowly defeated another incumbent, Sen. Harris Wofford, during a year of a Republican wave.

Santorum has grown accustomed to being an underdog, as he is now. “Every time he’s underestimated, that’s when he surprises people,” says Mr. Novak.

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