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Politics & Government

Rick Santorum To Launch Second White House Bid

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Here's someone else who is hoping for a good comeback story. He's a former U.S. senator, former 2012 White House hopeful, former Iowa caucus winner, and as of today, Rick Santorum is again a Republican presidential candidate. Joining us to talk about this is NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea. Hey, there, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hi, there.

CORNISH: So we already see it's going to be a very crowded race for the GOP nomination, right? How does Santorum hope to stand out?

GONYEA: Well, we don't know if he'll wear the sweater vest this time. But look - here's his big claim. He emerged from the pack just before the Iowa caucuses four years ago, in 2012. He won them - barely. Then he won 10 more states, becoming a major thorn in Mitt Romney's side, all the while running an underfunded campaign. He says he's a proven vote-getter. Evangelical voters were a big part of that, but he insists he's more than that. He pitches a message of economic populism - that's kind of unusual in Republican circles - and says they have to be the party of the little guy.

CORNISH: So you make it sound like he was sort of the anti-Romney candidate last time around, right? I mean, how about this time?

GONYEA: This time, he says the election is about national security. And he points to his own experience - two terms in the United States Senate Armed Services Committee. His rhetoric on how to deal with terrorist threats is as hawkish as anyone's in the race. Take a listen to this. It's from a recent speech in Iowa on how he'd deal with ISIS.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

RICK SANTORUM: They want to bring back a seventh century version of Islam, and so here's my suggestion. We load up our bombers, and we bomb them back to the seventh century.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: So there's that. He's similarly tough on Iran, and he says the president is creating a situation where it will become a nuclear power. And he notes that he sponsored legislation a dozen years ago to impose sanctions.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, when you look back at his previous attempts, I mean, what are the lessons we can draw from the last campaign?

GONYEA: Well, he won over a lot of voters by meeting them face-to-face - went to all 99 counties in Iowa. He's proud of that. Sometimes he was unscripted. Sometimes that got him into trouble. He would often step on his own message, like this comment, again, from four years ago that got a lot of attention. He's talking about President Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SANTORUM: President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.

(LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: This time, he's going to find a more crowded field, probably a more polished field, a more experienced field, so he'll have even less of a margin for error.

CORNISH: And, Don, we've got to talk about polls, right? This is going to come into play with the debates in particular. And when you look at Santorum, he's barely in the top 10, right? I mean, what does that mean at this stage?

GONYEA: Single digits - low single digits. So we may eventually have 15 or more Republican candidates. Only the top 10 in the polls will be allowed to join the first debate in August. Any candidate on the bubble - that may include Santorum - is going to have to figure out a way to get attention to make sure they get a slot. Debates were key for him four years ago. He needs them this year, as well, so that is a big early test.

CORNISH: NPR's Done Gonyea on Rick Santorum entering the Republican presidential race - his second go for the White House. Don, thanks so much.

GONYEA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.