Santorum just getting into first gear in NH

“I have to make the point that I didn’t wimp out, they canceled!” says Rick Santorum. He’s talking about his New Hampshire visit on the eve of last week’s major snowstorm that left parts of the state under more than 20 inches of the white powdery stuff, “I had rented an SUV with 4-wheel drive and I was ready to go,” asserts the former Senator from Pennsylvania, intent on proving his winter weather bona fides.

Speaking to NH Journal from a far milder South Carolina climate, Santorum, fresh from keynoting a sold-out Aiken Republican Committee luncheon, says that when he lost his re-election race 2006 he never would have imagined that four years later he would be considering a run for President, but that the current political atmosphere in Washington has spurred him to action. “[T]here are some very dangerous warning signs out there and we have a group of people in Washington with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and particularly Barack Obama who have put this country in more dire straits than I’ve seen it in my lifetime,” said Santorum, adding, “We have a bunch of people in government that stopped believing in the American people and decided that only the smart people who live in Washington should make decisions.”

Getting into policy specifics, Santorum vowed to make repeal of the recently passed health care reform legislation a top issue, “I think it’s the lynchpin…if we allow this bill to go into effect I believe that we will severely and potentially permanently damage the foundational freedoms of this country.”

Santorum endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in 2008, but in light of health care reform legislation passed during Romney’s tenure as Governor, Santorum expressed doubts about his candidacy: “I think this election cycle is just fundamentally different from the last one, and certainly Obamacare is at the heart of that, and I have some grave concerns about our party nominating someone who is going to give away the most important, most salient domestic issue that we’re going to face in this election.”

When the conversation turned to the rise of the often-controversial Tea Party, Santorum made no bones about his enthusiastic support for the movement, saying, “I credit them for really providing the energy for the 2010 wins and we wouldn’t have had near the gains across the country if it had not been for them, so I just think them for being the patriots that they are.” He even credited the Tea Party for his motivation to re-enter politics: “[J]ust like the Tea Party people I felt compelled to get off my couch and get back into the fray.”

Santorum expects to make his 9th visit to New Hampshire next month, where he will be the keynote speaker at the Rockingham County Reagan-Lincoln Day Dinner and continue building his NH infrastructure, aided by his newly hired Granite State guru Mike Biundo. “Mike has been just invaluable up there,” says Santorum, “he’s been able to get an opportunity for me to…really have an audience with people where you can really make your pitch and also get feedback.”

He emphasized the need for a dialogue with potential supporters and voters throughout the interview, stating, “I really believe that you don’t just go out and talk to people; you listen, and so I’m doing my best to try to listen and see what people think about the kind of candidate they want…and whether I fit that mold.”

Full text of the our interview with Rick Santorum is below:

NH Journal: With your 8th visit last week, you’re getting to be a regular in the Granite State. What were the highlights of your latest trip?

Rick Santorum: Well, I, had a great reception at the house of Ovide and Betty Lamontagne, they were so gracious inviting me to come to their house and meet some of their friends and supporters. I think there were 160-170 people there; at least that’s what Ovide said. The only disappointment was that they couldn’t fit all the people into an area where I could speak, so a lot of the folks that came didn’t get a chance to hear me – but that’s a good problem to have! It really speaks a lot for Ovide that he has that kind of loyal supporters that he’s been able to gather over the years. It was a lot of fun for me, and an opportunity to answer some of those hard-to-answer questions – which I got. The Bedford GOP meeting was also very well attended, there were 50-60 people there which was great, and I had a chance to talk to them for a more extended period of time. It was a very, very good evening, and a very good day, I had some good meetings. I had a second day scheduled, and that was the day of the blizzard that came. I had rented an SUV with 4-wheel drive and I was ready to go – if folks here in New Hampshire were going to show up, I’ll show up – but one after another they all sort of cancelled. I have to make the point that I didn’t wimp out; they cancelled!

NHJ: We spoke to Ovide last week a couple days before the event he hosted with you, and this was obviously the first in the series of candidate events he will be hosting, so congratulations on scoring the first spot. As I’m sure you know, Ovide was a Romney state co-chair in 2008. Say you run for President in 2012, are you hoping to get his support this time around, and have you discussed that with him?

RS: I’m not shy that I’m sort of doing the exploratory work, and one of the things I do is ask people “if I do this, would you be supportive?” because the fact that people would say “Yes I’ll be supportive” is actually one of the things I’m looking for to determine whether to do it, so in some respects it’s the chicken-and-the-egg problem. Ovide was very kind, and many people have been very kind while saying that they haven’t made a decision yet. Obviously it’s pretty early in the game at this point. I think you’re right, that Ovide’s endorsement is going to be very sought-after and rightfully so. As I mentioned he’s done a great job in articulating conservative principles and has been a class act as a political figure in the state. He’s someone who I think is very well-respected overall, particularly among conservatives, so he would very much be a sought-after endorsement and I would be honored if at the proper time he would do it. But I understand his reticence to make any decisions early on, and what he’s doing is actually a very helpful part of the process, bringing a group of candidates through to meet some of these folks and giving them the chance to sort of measure us up against everybody and then decide after they’ve had a good look at the field what to do.

NHJ: So you’re thinking about running for President – Why now? What drives you to run this year?

RS: It’s the current atmosphere and current people in power in Washington DC. After my last election I was not re-elected and I really felt like my public career could have been over for an extended period of time, and certainly would not have thought in November 2006 that I would be actively considering something like this. But things change quickly in this country as a result of the yearly elections, and I think our country is now very much behind the eight ball with respect to its economic dynamism, the financial and fiscal situation, and where we are as far as culture and national security – on all fronts there are some very dangerous warning signs out there. We have a group of people in Washington, with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and particularly Barack Obama, who have put this country in more dire straits than I’ve see it in my lifetime. So I felt compelled to – just like the Tea Party people – I felt compelled to get off my couch and get back into the fray and start doing something that can take the country back to the principles that made it successful – a country that believes in its people instead of its government. We have a bunch of people in government that have stopped believing in the American people and decided that only the smart people who live in Washington should make decisions.

NHJ: Having locked in a highly sought-after team member with your hire of Mike Biundo, what are your next few steps here in NH?

RS: I’ll be back in New Hampshire for sure next month, I believe we have one, maybe two, events scheduled next month, and I’m going to continue this process. I know I’m going to be speaking at a county dinner – a Lincoln Day Dinner – in one of the counties. I’m not sure I can announce that, but we are keynoting that county dinner and we’ll be doing some events like that. I think there’s a second county that’s asked us to come do one, so I’ll be up in the state. Mike [Biundo] has been just invaluable up there, obviously he knows everybody. This was our first trip up since we brought Mike on board, and the number of people that he’s been able to get an opportunity for me to meet, have coffee with, have a chance to really have an audience with people where you can really make your pitch, and also get feedback from people. This is still very much a feedback point in time, and I really believe that you don’t just go out and talk to people; you listen, and so I’m doing my best to try to listen and see what people think about the kind of candidate they want, and whether this is something that makes sense for me and whether I fit that mold.

NHJ: What is your timeline for deciding whether or not to run, and how big a role does this quarter’s fundraising play in that decision? Any specific fundraising goal for this quarter?

RS: No, I think right now I’m certainly talking to people about fundraising to kind of put some things together, but I obviously can’t run a machine without fuel. You have to be able to have the staff and the other types of things that you need, like travel expenses, to make a campaign go, and that’s certainly part of the calculus absolutely, and we’re doing our best to try to gauge whether there’s sufficient support to make this happen.

NHJ: The Tea Party movement was extremely prevalent in the 2010 election. What do you think of the Tea Party and what are you and will you be doing to reach out to Tea Party voters?

RS: I’m a huge fan of the Tea Party movement and I credit them for really providing the energy for the 2010 wins. We wouldn’t have had nearly the gains across the county had it not been for them, and so I just thank them for being the patriots that they are, for standing up and getting involved, and making a difference across the country. To the extent that I can be helpful in encouraging them to continue doing what they’re doing and getting more involved in the Presidential process I think that would be a good thing. They’ll only help to make sure that we do elect and nominate a strong conservative whose going to connect with the folks who have the passion to drive the votes out in the general election.

NHJ: Do you think overturning health care reform should and will be a top issue in the Presidential campaign?

RS: Certainly if I’m going to run for President that will be one of the top things that I will advocate. I think it’s the lynchpin, that if we allow this bill to go into effect I believe that we will severely and potentially permanently damage the foundational freedoms in this country, and that is not a good thing for America. It’s not a good thing for the future of our children and the future of American preeminence in the world.

NHJ: Mitt Romney came out on top in a recent poll commissioned by NH Journal, with 39% of the vote. Given that Governor Romney ushered in very similar health care reform measures in MA to those passed by congress and opposed by you and most other Republicans, do you think he is qualified to be the GOP nominee given that you believe the repeal or overhaul of health care reform should be a major issue?

RS: Well, I supported Mitt Romney – late, but I did support him – in the last Presidential go-round and I did so late, the weekend before Super Tuesday, because I thought he was the only viable alternative to be able to defeat John McCain, who I didn’t think would be our strongest nominee. So obviously Gov. Romney has a lot to commend him for being the nominee of the party. But, I think this election cycle is just fundamentally different than the last one, and certainly Obamacare is at the heart of that and I have some grave concerns about our party nominating someone who is going to give away the most important, most salient domestic issue that we’re going to face in this election, which is whether to repeal Obamacare, so again, I have some grave concerns. We have to have a nominee who is clear about the role of government in health care and understands that heath care is not going to be improved by having more government control of it, whether its on the state or the federal level.

NHJ: Another potential candidate, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, released a book this week that talks extensively about his personal faith. How do you view faith as a campaign issue, and do you believe faith has a place in the political/campaign dialogue?

RS: I just gave a speech in Houston back in September, which I commend to you, its on my website and it talks about the role of faith in public life. I strongly believe that we need to have faith as the ultimate guide to truth, as something that we can look to. Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and if you look at his “I Have a Dream” speech, at all the speeches he gave, he talked about a higher law, God’s law, that we must be accountable to, and that our man-made laws have to comport with the truth and the laws of our Creator. I mean, our founders understood that, they talked about it all the time, they talked about it in the Declaration of Independence – certain inalienable rights given to us by our Creator – and that has made our country always strive to be good, to be true, to do justice. Can you have justice absent faith? Yes, but I’ve never seen it work anywhere else, you know, its abstractly possible, but what we know is possible and what has worked in America is – America has continued to try to strive to have our laws comport with what is good and true and beautiful, and faith is a great teacher of that.

NHJ: Turning to the tragic events in Tucson last weekend – in American history, Presidents often prove themselves in times of national crisis. Do you think Obama has handled the Tucson shooting appropriately? As President, is there anything you would have done differently?

I would say this, I thought the shooting obviously was a tragedy, but I’m not too sure I would label it a “national crisis.” I don’t think there was any great threat to the nation at this point, I think it was certainly a horrible event, as is any kind of shooting, and certainly a member of Congress being shot is horrific, but I think I would say that what the president did is what any president would do. I didn’t see it particularly as a difficult speech to make; I’m not too sure what other speech he could make at that time. You want to give a speech that is building confidence and not being partisan and not being political and reaffirming the basic goodness of America and in that regard he did what he had to do, and I commended him for it, I came out and complimented him for it, but I didn’t see that as necessarily a 3-point shot at the buzzer from 60 feet, it was one of the things a president should do and he did it.

Author: Staff Reporter

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