Santorum plants seed for possible 2016 White House candidacy

Rick Santorum is positioning himself for a possible White House run in 2016.

The former Pennsylvania senator has thrown his support behind Mitt Romney, but it is clear he is mulling another White House bid down the road.

ADVERTISEMENT
Unlike some other prominent conservatives that either ran against Romney or supported other candidates, Santorum has sought to amplify his brand in the conservative wing of the Republican Party while also serving as a surrogate for the 2012 Republican nominee.

Santorum, 54, has previously indicated that he might run in 2016 should Romney lose.

In an April interview with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News, Santorum said, “I feel like a young man, and hopefully I feel like a young man four years from now.”

That same month, a senior aide to Santorum told Chris Matthews on MSNBC that the ex-senator has engaged in discussions about a 2016 bid.

Hogan Gidley said, “I’m not going to say we haven’t talked about it, of course, you look and you say what are you going to do in the future…a lot of people said, ‘Prepare for 2016.’”

Republican history is on Santorum’s side as the party usually nominates the next guy in line, or the candidate that finished second in the primary four years earlier. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who posed a major threat to Romney in the 2012 primary, is 69 and unlikely to run again.

It is clear that should Romney lose, there will be many top-tier Republicans other than Santorum who will mull a White House bid. In the meantime, Santorum is playing an active role on the 2012 campaign trail.

On Wednesday, Santorum, along with Tea Party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), endorsed Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-Mo.) bid to oust Sen. Claire McCaskill (R-Mo.) in Missouri. The joint endorsement has likely helped ease other top Republicans — including ones who denounced Akin in response to the comment — into reconsidering their positions.

Santorum, who did not respond to a request for an interview, plans on making a political action committee contribution to Akin’s campaign and participate in “mobilizing for his grassroots supporters” according to Virginia Davis, a spokeswoman and adviser for Santorum.

The Akin endorsement wasn’t the first one Santorum has made since the Republican presidential primary ended.

Through his SuperPAC, the Red, White, and Blue Fund, as well as his political action committee, Patriot Voices, Santorum has thrown support behind congressional candidates in Michigan, Georgia, and Iowa and Senate candidates Ted Cruz in Texas, Richard Mourdock in Indiana, and Pete Hoekstra in Michigan.

The Red, White, and Blue Fund has funded campaign trips for Santorum to Iowa to support John Archer in the 2nd district and Ben Lange in the 1st district, according to Red, White, and Blue spokesman Matt Beynon.

For being a team player, the Romney campaign gave Santorum a prominent speaking role at the GOP convention in Tampa.

But Santorum didn’t hold back during the primary, attacking him on healthcare, contraception and for being a “Massachusetts moderate.” In February, Santorum said he regretted endorsing Romney in 2008, though endorsed him again in May.

Davis says the former senator’s plan going forward is to champion conservative issues and candidates through his political action committee. Santorum has weighed in with the conservative group The Family Leader on a judicial retention election in Iowa, criticized President Obama on refusing to gut “welfare reform” and helped fund an event in Western Pennsylvania for veterans.

“The genesis of the organization was to carry on many of the issues that he found people cared about during the campaign,” Davis said.

Davis added that Santorum could endorse other candidates before Election Day.

The endorsements are part of a larger plan by Santorum to focus on conservative causes.

Santorum, according to Davis, will focus his efforts on a number of battleground states: Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Besides campaigning, Santorum is promoting his book: “American Patriots: Answering the Call to Freedom.” The tome comes out Tuesday and Santorum will appear on “The Late Show with David Letterman” the following day.

Brad Todd, a Republican strategist, said Santorum seems to be following the playbook of Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) before he ran for president.

“Jack Kemp did all those things in ‘88,” Todd said in reference to writing a book, supporting conservative candidates and pushing causes of the right.

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean says Santorum is a major player in the party now. That is in stark contrast to six years ago, when Santorum lost to now-Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) by 18 percentage points.

“He still has a lot of years ahead of him and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were to try and be involved in the political process again,” Bonjean said. “It’s too early to tell where he might go but he’s definitely relevant. He definitely has a strong conservative political base to operate from and having a PAC adds to that foundation.”

Similarly, strategist Rick Wilson said in an email that Santorum seems interested in joining other conservative heavyweights as leaders of the GOP, along with Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Mike Lee (Utah).

Wilson stated, “Yet to be determined if he’s looking at this as a path to 2016 or 2020, but...Occam’s razor, right?”