Santorum: 'I'll put my record up against anybody'

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"I have a whole laundry list of legislative accomplishments, of being able to get along and get big things done. Plus I've done things outside of politics that have sort of tried to improve the overall health of the country," he told The Hill at the annual Values Voter Summit (VVS) in Washington, D.C.

Asked whether he was concerned about running in a GOP primary against Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), both considered potential 2016 contenders, he suggested neither had enough experience to appeal to voters.

"I'll put my record up against anybody. You've got two first-term senators in their first elective office. I think there's a pretty clear difference to what folks are looking to in a president," Santorum said.

Santorum surged in the final months of the 2012 Republican presidential primary as voters looking for a more conservative alternative to ultimate nominee Mitt Romney came to coalesce behind him. He ultimately lost, but has made no secret of the fact that he's considering another run three years from now.

If he does run in 2016 — he admitted during his address at the conference that he thinks "every now and then" about launching another presidential bid — he's expected to face a wide array of conservative candidates that observers believe will be stronger than the 2012 slate, including Cruz and Paul.

Santorum pushed back against the idea that the 2012 field of candidates was weak, and said he felt "really good" that he did as well as he did in that contest.

Looking back, Santorum said his biggest mistake was not raising enough money early, calling it "a huge handicap."

"We were able to get outspent 4-5-6-7-10-to-1 in some cases, and we were still able to do amazingly well. That gives me a sense that if we're starting out in little better shape than I was — if we end up going — than I was four years ago, that has its pluses and minuses and all those things we'll have to factor in in making that decision," he said.

He said he is taking steps to be ready, financially, if he decides to run.

"I have been talking to a lot of folks that would be potential donors. I haven't made a decision that this is something I'm going to do, and my conversations are not, 'Hey, I'm running, I need your help.' That's not what I'm doing. Most of them are involved with a whole variety of different issues, and I'm just getting to know people," he said.

Santorum drew a favorable response from the crowd at the annual VVS with an address that urged conservatives to stand up for their values and continue to focus on social issues, but to change their message.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are engaged in the battle for the heart and soul of America. And we need to be better and smarter about how we communicate our message,” he said. “Do not back away one inch from what we believe in.”

Following his remarks, he told The Hill that he's considering a run for president because "you have to."

"The country's in such terrible shape. It's got absolutely no leadership out of the president. And we just have a very divisive figure there, and I'm hopeful that we can try to do something to bring our country back to the principles that we all agree with," he said.