Q&A with former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum

EDITOR'S NOTE: As the 2012 GOP presidential field shapes up, The Post and Courier is seeking to talk one-on-one with each contender. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum visited North Charleston Tuesday for a tour of the Lowcountry Pregnancy Center, and he sat down with reporter Robert Behre.

Q: You have said you're running a different kind of campaign, but polls show you're still near the bottom. How concerned are you by these numbers?

A: "I'd be concerned if the election was next week, but it's not. We're running an old-fashioned campaign using new technology. We're meeting people, energizing activists in the party and having them be the folks that help you build out your base of support over time. To me, it's a strategy perfectly suited for the smaller states."

Q: What unique attribute or position on the issues do you bring to the table?

A: "Authenticity. My career is pretty consistent, conservative. (I've had) the courage to lead on tough issues, to do it when it was very unpopular. I was out talking about Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare reform before anyone acknowledged there was a problem with any of them, talking about radical Islam and Iran and Syria, talking about the culture and what's happening to our society. I've led on all those issues. I've not just taken pledges, I've taken bullets."

Q: As you campaign in South Carolina, whose endorsement would you most like to have and why?

A: "I have (former U.S. Rep.) Gresham Barrett's endorsement, which is huge for me. He's someone I obviously campaigned for for governor, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. ... I think (U.S. Sen.) Jim (DeMint) and I are philosophically more together than (U.S. Sen.) Lindsey (Graham) and I, but Lindsey has been elected twice in this state, and obviously has a good base of support. We'd like everybody's endorsement."

Q: When you campaigned here in February, you expressed concern about radicals taking over in Egypt. Have you become more optimistic or more pessimistic about the situation there?

A: "We'll see. They haven't held their elections yet. We don't know what they will produce. There's certainly cause for concern."

Q: How will Osama bin Laden's death affect the 2012 presidential race?

A: "It will give the president something to talk about that's he's accomplished, but I don't think many people see the president's role -- the ordering of the killings of individuals -- as a key part of being president. If it wasn't for the unique situation with respect to our military entering Pakistan, very likely our president wouldn't have been involved at all."

Q: Is there a danger that the tea party will cause Republicans to pick a candidate less palatable to moderate voters?

A: "I think the tea party will help us pick a candidate who is a more principled conservative, and I think that's an important contrast with Obama. We tried a moderate Republican last time. It didn't work out as planned."

Q: What is the most important aspect of the current negotiations going on in Washington regarding the nation's debt ceiling and finding a long-term solution to the federal debt?

A: "The balanced budget amendment is the one thing they have to hold out for. That is a game changer in Washington. I've been in too many budget negotiations with budget cuts that sound good on paper, but when it all comes to it, never happen because there isn't the political will to sustain them. We have to strike while the iron is hot. The iron is hot right now."

Q: What is the most overlooked issue in the race so far?

A: "National security. I'm just amazed at how few questions I get on that. That's an area of real strength to me, and one I wish were talked about more."