HILTON HEAD ISLAND -- Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has endorsed a candidate in the South Carolina gubernatorial race, throwing his support behind U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett.

"Gresham Barrett is a conservative who can get things done," Santorum said in a news release issued Wednesday by the Republican Barrett's campaign.

"He can bring people together from all walks of life, unite them behind his conservative vision for South Carolina and lead this state in a new era of economic prosperity."

During a stop on Hilton Head Island with Santorum, Barrett discussed job creation, tax reform and his goal of making South Carolina a national leader in the nuclear power industry, according to the Island Packet newspaper.

He said South Carolina must be a leader in the right areas.

"Too many times when we're first we need to be 50," he said. "And too many times when we're 50th we need to be first."

The pair were scheduled to appear together during several gatherings Wednesday in Rock Hill and Spartanburg.

Santorum lost his 2006 Senate re-election bid by a large margin.

Since then he has become a political commentator, keeping his profile high with conservative activists who play an important role in GOP politics.

He has fueled speculation that he will seek the Republican presidential nomination. During an October stop in Iowa, Santorum said he was considering a return to politics but hadn't decided on 2012.

"I want a role in where this party is going, where this country is going," Santorum said in an interview during that stop.

"Whether it's a role in a political fashion, whether it's a role as a commentator or a role as a party leader, I don't know, and it's not important to me."