Santorum officially 'testing the waters'

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) moved a step closer to a 2012 run for president, announcing Wednesday the formation of an effort to test the fundraising waters.

Santorum made the announcement during an interview with Fox News's Greta Van Susteren, saying he will spend "the next few weeks" trying to determine whether he can raise the kind of money needed to compete in 2012 before making a final decision.  

The effort is not an official presidential exploratory committee, but it will allow Santorum to raise money that he could use for a presidential campaign if he decides to move forward. Santorum's camp is officially describing it as a "testing the waters account."

"I've gotten a lot of great feedback from people, a lot of encouragement," Santorum said. "I feel like we've got a good strong presence on the ground, and now really the test for me is whether we can raise the money that's necessary. So I'm gonna set up a committee, a testing the waters committee."

The former senator said he expects to "determine over the next few weeks whether the resources are going to be there to do it."

The former senator is seen as an underdog in the fight for the Republican nomination, but is looking to capitalize on his profile as a staunch social conservative, particulary in Iowa, a state Santorum has visited more than a dozen times in the past year.

He has also proven to be the most willing among the pack of GOP presidential hopefuls to go after the field's presumed front-runner on healthcare, directly challenging the plan Mitt Romney championed as Massachusetts governor on several occasions in recent months.

Santorum lags in early GOP primary polls, but a recent survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found the former senator in a dead heat with President Obama in a hypothetical 2012 general election match-up in his home state of Pennsylvania. 

Fresh off his Wednesday announcement, Santorum heads to New Hampshire for a three-day campaign swing through the first-in-the-nation primary state that includes a Friday rally with Tea Party activists on the steps of the state capitol in Concord.

Updated and corrected at 11:04 p.m.