Santorum heads to Iowa, stokes buzz

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) is well aware his forthcoming visit to Iowa will encourage presidential speculation, and he is doing nothing to tamp down the buzz.

Santorum, the ardent conservative who lost his seat in 2006, will give the final lecture in a year-long series put on by the American Future Fund, a conservative group based in the Hawkeye State. Santorum will speak to conservative Iowans at the University of Dubuque on Thursday.

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"When you give a speech in either Iowa or New Hampshire, as a Republican or a Democrat, people pay attention," Santorum said on a Tuesday conference call in which he previewed his speech.

Santorum said he would not make a decision about running for president yet, but acknowledged that he would use the speech to raise his national profile.

"I don't have office and therefore the ability for me ... to speak into the moment and influence the debate has to come from other places. It can't come from press conferences outside my Senate offices," Santorum said.

The presidential election is "three years away, and what I think I've said pretty consistently is that this is an opportunity for me to talk about issues," he added. "This is an opportunity to speak and lend my voice to what I hope to be a conservative movement and a Republican movement to change the direction Barack Obama wants to take us."

During his two terms in the Senate, Santorum was one of the most outspoken Christian conservatives on the national scene. He lost to Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) by a wide margin as Republicans lost control of the Senate in the 2006 elections.

But that loss was not the end of Santorum's political involvement. He has campaigned for Republican nominees for governor in New Jersey and Virginia this year, and he is making stops in North Carolina, Arizona and Illinois on behalf of GOP candidates there. He has even added a stop in Iowa.

After his speech to the AFF, Santorum will address an abortion-opposition group in Des Moines, the state's largest city. Santorum said he would also meet with local GOP leaders. Iowans, he said, "have a great and disproportionate impact on the future of our country."

"I'm always impressed by the people out there and the knowledge they have," he said of Iowans. "I always marveled at the state. They take their responsibility seriously that they have in the primary season."

Santorum also said he would address the state of the Republican Party, which he said needed to adopt Ronald Reagan's adage that someone who agrees with the party 80 percent of the time is not 20 percent an enemy. He defended his past support for Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who campaigned with Santorum during a tough Republican primary in 2004; Santorum noted that although Specter switched parties earlier this year, Specter had been a key backer of President Bush's two nominees to the Supreme Court.

Santorum will deliver the third lecture of the year to an AFF audience. Earlier this year, former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) and Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) delivered well-publicized remarks.