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Rick Santorum courts blue-collar voters in convention speech

TAMPA, Fla. — Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) broadsided President Obama’s policies Tuesday night in a convention speech that emphasized his immigrant roots and made an appeal to the blue-collar voters he connects with best.

Calling Obama’s policies a “nightmare of dependency,” Santorum described his coal-mining immigrant grandfather’s “hands that dug his path in life” before attacking the country’s immigration system and what he called Obama’s “government guarantee of income equality.”

“My grandfather, like millions of other immigrants, didn’t come here for some government guarantee of income equality or government benefits to take care of his family. In 1923 there were no government benefits for immigrants except one: freedom,” Santorum said to cheers. “Under President Obama, the dream of freedom and opportunity has become a nightmare of dependency with almost half of America receiving some government benefit.”

Santorum drew an extended standing ovation from the crowd of delegates, there primarily in support of his primary rival Mitt Romney, when he walked onstage. Santorum’s home-state delegation chanted his name as he reached the podium. 

He hit on the social issues he is best known for, saying the country must “stop the assault on America and the family,” talking about his disabled daughter before thanking God “America still has one party that reaches out their hands in love to lift up all of God’s children — born and unborn,” earning the strongest applause of his speech.

He also echoed a recent Romney attack line when he ripped into Obama’s move to let some states have more flexibility in running their welfare programs, accusing the president of trying to create more dependency on government.

“Requiring work as a condition for receiving welfare succeeded, and not just because the welfare rolls were cut in half but because employment went way up, poverty went down and dreams were realized,” he said. “It’s a sturdy ladder to success that is built with healthy families, education and hard work. But President Obama’s policies undermine the traditional family, weaken the education system — and this summer he showed us once again he believes in government handouts and dependency by waiving the work requirement for welfare.”

His speech focused on the blue-collar values that were his strength in the GOP primary process and made him a last-minute threat to Romney.

Santorum didn’t mention his onetime rival much during the speech — and never once talked about Romney as a person — but, in closing, offered a full-throated endorsement, a symbolic uniting of the party months after a divisive and testy primary.

“In November we have a chance to vote for life and liberty, not dependency,” he said. “A vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will put our country back in the hands of leaders who understand what America can and, for the sake of our children, must be to keep the dream alive,” he said to sustained cheers.