Rick Santorum 2012: Republican Presidential Candidate

PHOTO: Rick Santorum

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.

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