Santorum: I’m Conservative Candidate for Alabama
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum appealed Thursday for votes in Alabama's upcoming primary, calling the state the "heart of conservatism" and casting himself as the best fit for its voters.
During appearances in the Birmingham suburb of Pelham and earlier in Huntsville, the former Pennsylvania senator said he was the true conservative presidential candidate who would present the best contrast to Democratic President Barack Obama in November. His campaign hoped wins here and Mississippi, as well as Saturday's contest in Kansas, would push rival Newt Gingrich from the race and leave Santorum as the leading alternative to front-runner Mitt Romney.
The former Massachusetts governor is too moderate and too much like Obama, having enacted a state health care package that became the model for Obama's national overhaul, Santorum said. Rival Newt Gingrich also has backed health insurance mandates, he said.
"Why would this area of the country put forward a candidate that gives away the most important issue in this election?" Santorum said in a crowded banquet room at a civic building. With his arms spread wide, he added: "There's one option not to give it away."
"We believe in you!" a woman called from the back of the room earlier.
"Unlike President Obama, I believe in you," Santorum said to loud applause.
Santorum was waging a campaign on two fronts: to emerge over Gingrich as conservatives' preferred alternative to Romney, and to derail Romney's march toward the GOP presidential nomination. He told reporters before a late speech in Mobile that strong showings in Alabama and in Mississippi were key to that plan.
"If we can finish first or second in Mississippi and Alabama on Tuesday, that will be a big win for us and hopefully get this race down to two candidates," he said.
"Then we can, again, make the case that there's one conservative who can win in every other place in this country, that has earned the right to take on Gov. Romney, one-on-one, and give conservatives a chance to coalesce around one person to able to win this nomination for the conservative cause."
Santorum and Gingrich were both campaigning hard to win Southern states that will vote in the coming days.
Gingrich has just two wins to his credit: South Carolina and his home state of Georgia. His spokesman said that Gingrich must win the next Southern contests to justify a continued campaign.
In Huntsville, Santorum drew big ovations from hundreds gathered at a state-owned museum with calls for increased federal spending on defense and space programs and less spending on social welfare programs.
Standing under a Saturn V rocket hanging from the roof of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, he recalled watching the moon landing as a child. He also praised Huntsville's importance to the Apollo missions and NASA in general.
"As an American, I want to say thank you, Huntsville," Santorum said. "Thank you for the work you've done."
Forty-seven Republican convention delegates are at stake in Alabama's Republican primary on Tuesday. Romney visits Alabama on Friday. Gingrich visited earlier in the week, including a stop at the space museum.
Decatur resident Robert Couey, who attended both space center events, said Thursday that he doesn't support Romney and contended that Romney isn't conservative enough. Couey said he likes Santorum, adding that he thinks Gingrich has been inconsistent on issues.
"He speaks with conviction," Couey said of Santorum. "Gingrich is intelligent. He has the background but look at ... all the things he's said."
Huntsville resident Gay Nyberg said she is down to deciding between Santorum and Gingrich. Romney, she said, isn't for her.
"I think the other guy is not a true conservative," she said, "and I don't know that I can trust him to represent me."