This early in the 2012 U.S. presidential race, it's not so much about notching early wins or losses -- it's about meeting or exceeding expectations, Republican candidate Rick Santorum said Tuesday evening.
And when he placed fourth this month in the Ames (Iowa) Straw Poll, Santorum told an audience at Penn State University Park, he beat expectations. He had been pegged for an eighth-place finish.
"I'm not doing this for my health (or) my wealth," Santorum said, explaining his run for the Republican nomination in 2012. Concerned that the United States is facing its most critical point since 1860, he'll keep running for the White House as long he has money to do so, he added.
Specifically, he believes that the expansion of government power -- including through government-run health care -- threatens to "rob us of what made us great" and to "hook" citizens on entitlements, Santorum said.
Americans' ancestors "fought and clawed and struggled -- for you to be taken care of?" he asked rhetorically. "No. For you to be free."
A 1980 Penn State graduate, the former senator from Pennsylvania founded the current organization of the university's College Republicans in 1977. Well more than 100 people turned out to hear him speak Tuesday evening in the HUB-Robeson Center, where he appeared for about 90 minutes before departing for an interview on the Fox News Channel.
In the HUB, Santorum spoke for nearly a half hour before opening the floor for an hour's worth of unscripted, unscreened and sometimes-tense questions. Some 50 people filled a modest -- and sultry -- meeting room that had been reserved for his appearance, with dozens more spilling out into an attached hallway.
Anthony Christina, president of the Penn State College Republicans, introduced Santorum to the group. They were soon flanked by state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, whose now-retired father, former state Sen. J. Doyle Corman, was once Santorum's boss.
Among Santorum's remarks:
- He repeatedly cautioned the the mostly student crowd against giving up power to the government. The U.S. is rooted in the idea that everyone has worth that comes fromt he divine, not from government, he said. "We built this country on Judeo-Christian ethic," Santorum said, adding that "we will not long survive" if the country gives up that ethic and the "principles that make (the country) great."
- Too much government regulation -- including of farmers -- is stifling business in the U.S, he said. Santorum lamented what he called the increasing lack of economic mobility among lower-income people, saying that decline is driven largely by the decline of manufacturing in the country. He advocated for a corporate tax rate of zero percent for manufacturers -- to lure more manufacturing jobs back to the country, he said. That rate is now set at 35 percent.
- Santorum ripped President Barack Obama on several fronts, saying the president should not set military strategy "around election time" -- a reference to Obama's time-specific troop-withdrawal vision for Afghanistan. As president, Santorum would not set a troop-withdrawal date as a goal; his military goals would be centered on the success of the mission, he said. Santorum also said that Obama is "bankrupting your generation and creating an economy where you won't be able to get a job." He asserted that the Obama administraiton takes young people "for fools." Said Santorum: "We have to look at these (federal entitlement) programs and get them in a position where you can afford them -- because right now, you can't."
- He reiterated his earlier statements that "marriage is marriage," arguing against the legalization of gay marriage. Santorum said marriage is not a right, but a privilege granted by government because it has benefits to society. Those benefits include a focus on procreation and on a man and woman's mutual support of each other "as they were meant to be by nature and by nature's God," Santorum said. " ... Government should be all about promoting what's good for society." He claimed that social science shows traditional marriage is best for children and for couples, though some law students in the room heatedly challenged him on that assertion.
- On the episode of CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight" that's scheduled to air Wednesday, Morgan accuses Santorum of bigotry -- and calls him a bigot -- because Santorum carries Catholic beliefs on some social matters, Santorum said. He said the legalization of gay marriage would bear "profound consequences" for "the moral ecology of America." And he said American Psychological Association support for parenting by same-sex couples "is not proof of anything." Rather, he told a pro-gay-marriage law student, "it's proof that people agree with you." Santorum suggested the APA-presented research on the issue is not valid.
- On the issue of faith in government, Santorum suggested he would bring his sense of reason and a religious-faith-inspired sense of right and wrong to his work in public office. People who aren't of religious faith bring their faith-driven ideas into public office, too -- it's just that their faith may not be rooted in the divine, Santorum said. He said everyone in public office brings to bear his or her own values, no matter in what or in whom those values are rooted. As president, he said, he would serve on behalf of both the religious and secular.
Santorum's stop at University Park, hosted by the Penn State College Republicans, inspired a number of demonstrations in the HUB. About a dozen students with the LGBTA Student Alliance staged a silent protest before Santorum's arrival, expressing opposition to his anti-gay-marriage views.
"We're just making our presence known," said senior Lauren Rodriguez.
Later, as Santorum exited the event room, a group estimated at nearly 40 students -- including gay-rights advocates, supporters of the American Civil Liberties Union and members of an atheist-agnostic student organization -- chanted. "We are Penn State; we are not straight," they hollered.
Santorum left through a side entrance and did not appear to engage with the demonstrators.
"The goal was to show solidarity," said demonstrator Jeremy LaMaster, a Penn State senior. He carried a handmade poster objecting to Santorum's recent suggestion that he'd taken "bullets" over social issues.
The poster identified three people who've taken literal bullets over some social issues that Santorum campaigns on, LaMaster said. One image on the poster pictured George Tiller, a Wichita, Kan., abortion provider who was gunned down in church by an anti-abortion activist.
Santorum also stopped at the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair -- in Centre Hall -- and in Toftrees on Tuesday. He's in Pennsylvania largely for a fundraising swing through the state, though his Centre County stops did not include any fundraising activity, according to local party officials.