Rick Santorum 2012: Republican Presidential Candidate

PHOTO: Rick SantorumAlex Wong/Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., addresses the Values Voter Summit Oct. 7, 2011, in Washington, D.C.

Ninety-nine counties: It's the goal of every candidate who wants to win Iowa.

In the 2012 GOP race for the White House, it's Rick Santorum who will be the first to hit every county in the first caucus state. Despite still low poll numbers, the former Pennsylvania senator has spent the most time in the Hawkeye state of all his rivals and he's hoping to surprise the field with a Mike Huckabee-style win in January.

Santorum, 53, announced his candidacy on Good Morning America June 6, 2011, telling the nation, "We're ready to announce that we are going to be in this race and we're in it to win."

It might have seemed like a surprising decision for Santorum, who badly lost his most recent election in 2006 to Bob Casey in an 18-point drubbing. But his conservative credentials and passionate opposition to abortion, gay marriage and what he sees as the erosion of the American family could be appealing in not only Iowa, but also South Carolina.

Santorum was born in Winchester, Va., in 1958 and raised in Butler County, Pa. He is the son of an Italian immigrant father and he frequently cites his father's and grandfather's struggles in fascist Italy as reasons he is running for the presidency. His parents worked for the Veteran's Administration: his father, a psychologist, and his mother, a nurse.

Santorum graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1980, then received an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh a year later and five years after that received a law degree from the Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law. He began practicing law in Pittsburgh and, while working at the firm Kirkpatrick and Lockhart, met his now-wife Karen Garver.

They married in 1990, the year he first ran for Congress, winning an upset victory at 32 against a seven-year Democratic incumbent in the 18th District of Pennsylvania. Santorum attacked his opponent for living outside the district for most of the year, a tactic that would come back to haunt him in his failed 2006 Senate re-election campaign.

Known for a combative and aggressive style still visible on the campaign trail and in debates, Santorum became a member of the Gang of Seven, a group of newly elected House members who helped expose the House banking and congressional post office scandals.

After two terms in the House, at age 36, he ran for Senate, defeating a Democratic incumbent 32 years his senior. Santorum has been the most vocal-- and controversial -- on the socially conservative issues he most passionate about: abortion and homosexuality.

During debates about late-term abortion, he brought in large posters of fetuses on the Senate floor using graphic language to describe why he believed the procedure should be outlawed.

Although Santorum was always anti-abortion, he cites his fourth child's being born prematurely and dying hours after birth Oct. 11, 1996, as a reason he became even more passionate about the issue. After their son's death, Santorum and his wife brought the body to his wife's parents' home for several hours to spend time with their three children. They named their son Gabriel and his wife wrote a book, "Letters to Gabriel," about the experience.

The Santorums are devout Roman Catholics and have seven children, ages 3 to 20. The youngest, Bella, suffers from the rare genetic disorder Trisomy 18.

In 2003, Santorum gave an interview to the Associated Press in which he argued the Supreme Court should not overturn state sodomy laws, adding he doesn't have a problem with homosexuality but "homosexual acts."

He also compared homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality, one of his most controversial statements that led directly to a Google problem that still haunts him today.

Gay activist and sex advice columnist Dan Savage launched a "Google bomb" after the statements encouraging online supporters to create a new definition for Santorum. That's exactly what happened and now the senator's last name is defined by a sexual neologism whenever it is put into the search engine.

In the same AP interview, Santorum blamed the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis on liberalism, homosexuality and the right to privacy.

"We're not talking about priests with 3-year-olds, or 5-year olds," he said. "We're talking about a basic homosexual relationship. Which, again, according to the world view sense, is a perfectly fine relationship as long as it's consensual between people. If you view the world that way, and you say that's fine, you would assume that you would see more of it."

Santorum believes there should be a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman. He was also against the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the now-overturned policy that barred homosexuals' serving openly in the armed forces.

He served eight years on the Senate Armed Services Committee and sees Iran as a serious threat to both the United States and Israel. He also sees the country's economic problems as being connected to the "breakdown of the American family."

At the Bloomberg Television-Washington Post debate, he explained why he thinks the two are connected.

"The home -- the word "home" in Greek is the basis of the word 'economy.' It is the foundation of our country. We need to have a policy that supports families, that encourages marriage, that has fathers take responsibility for their children.

"You can't have limited government, you can't have a wealthy society if the family beaks down, that basic unit of society. And that needs to be included in this economic discussion," Santorum said.

In his 2006 Senate re-election battle, he faced Democratic state treasurer Bob Casey, Jr, the son of former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey. Casey is also anti-abortion, negating one of Santorum's key policy issues. A housing controversy --reminiscent of the one that helped him initially get elected to Congress -- also did not help his campaign.

Despite rising to the third ranking Republican in the Senate, Santorum lost to Casey 59 percent to 41 percent. After the loss, Santorum went back to practicing law, became a Fox News contributor and also launched his PAC, "America's Foundation."

After announcing on "Good Morning America" in June, he held a campaign event in Somerset County, in the western part of the state near where his grandfather worked in a coal mine after emigrating from Italy.

"I'm ready to lead," Santorum told the crowd. "I'm ready to do what has to be done for the next generation."