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Santorum's emotional CPAC speech inspired by nephew's death

Former Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum on Friday delivered an emotional address at the Conservative Political Action Conference, inspired by the death of his nephew the night before, that indicated he has no plans to fade from the political spotlight anytime soon.

Speaking to a full auditorium that received him with enthusiastic but sometimes uneven applause, Santorum attacked the left for currying favor with Americans by offering "stuff" and charged that conservatives need to stand by their principles.

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"What does it profit a movement to gain the count and lose its own soul?" he said.

And in a line that echoed Romney's comment about losing because President Obama gave certain demographic groups "gifts," Santorum charged that "the left can always promise more stuff."

"If all we do this weekend is offer Americans a better way to get more stuff in hopes that this will dull their pain, we and America will lose," he said.

That pain was a unifying symbol in the speech, inspired by the death of Santorum's nephew the night before. Santorum rewrote the speech a few hours before he gave it to reflect his thoughts following the death, according to an aide.

Santorum suggested the pain he and his family felt was a metaphor for the suffering felt by the less fortunate in America, but charged that "our culture and our political leadership" have made that suffering meaningless.

"Yet the suffering is greater today because our culture and our political leadership have robbed them of the why of America — our purpose," he said.

His speech was in stark contrast to the one he gave a year ago at the same conference, at the height of his popularity within the conservative movement as he rose to prominence in the Republican presidential field.

That year, he faced a packed and excited audience and issued a speech that railed against Obama's healthcare reform and sought largely to create a contrast between himself and eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

At this year's conference, Santorum drew a smaller, more subdued crowd. And he largely shied away from specific policy prescriptions, offering instead a more philosophical expression of his view forward for the GOP.

But at the end of the speech, Santorum asked attendees to join him in his efforts and text their "dream" to a number associated with his advocacy organization, Patriot Voices, an indication he's hoping to expand his base of supporters for future political endeavors.