Rick Santorum Vows Not to Run for ‘Pastor in Chief’

Feb 8, 2012 2:47pm
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(Image Credit: Jeff Roberson/AP)

MCKINNEY, Texas – After stunning victories in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado Tuesday night, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum told a group of pastors here today that despite his focus on “the role of family in our society,” he is not running to be “pastor in chief” and that clergy should be working harder.

“It’s not because I want to be the pastor of the United States,” he said. “I have no intention and no desire to be the pastor of this country. There are pastors all over here who, you know, you guys can do a little better than you’re doing right now, I’ll be honest with you,” Santorum said before asking for an “Amen” from the crowd.

“We could be doing a little better out there in the churches, but I’m leaving that to you, all right? But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to stand and fight for the things that are consistent with what this country was founded upon, which was a moral foundation,” Santorum said.

He briefly mentioned his victories Tuesday night, saying he consistently benefits from being underestimated. He beat Mitt Romney 2-1 in Missouri, which awarded no delegates.

“I got elected to the United States Congress. After these elections, I looked back and I just had to thank God, because there’s no way I should have won this election,” the former Pennsylvania senator said. “One of the great gifts that I’ve had in my political career is that no one ever thinks that I could ever win anything. The gift of being underestimated is a wonderful gift.  I think you may have seen a little bit of that last night.”

The owner of the event space – the Bella Donna chapel – a Santorum supporter, started inviting pastors from the Dallas area about a week ago to hear the former congressman speak.

About 100 clergy packed into the small chapel, while an overflow tent next door was open to the public and held several hundred despite the cold temperatures.

Santorum, 53, greeted the crowd and on his way out told a mass of reporters trailing him that his campaign had raised $400,000 in the past two days.

The main reason for traveling to Texas, despite no upcoming primary, is for the candidate to attend a fundraiser in the Dallas area. An aide Tuesday evening told ABC News the state is “very generous,” and donors here were excited to meet him.

The address was notably devoid of much political discussion, although he did accuse President Obama of restricting Americans’ right to freedom of religion, as he has since the Department of Health and Human Services controversial decision last week to require all institutions that provide health insurance, including Catholic hospitals and universities, to cover contraception and emergency contraception.

“We even see the Obama administration right now not talking about freedom of religion,” Santorum said. “They now start using the term freedom of worship, which, how many people think all that religion is all about is worship? It’s what you’re about every single day. It’s not just the freedom to gather and worship, but it’s the freedom to go out and live that faith every day.”

As he usually does when addressing churches and religious groups, he spoke about his personal testimonial and religious awakening, telling the group he “didn’t realize how dry and parched” he was when he first came to Congress and began attending bible study groups.

He told the story of the son he lost a few hours after birth in 1996 named Gabriel and spoke about his 3-year-old daughter, Bella, who suffers from the rare, genetic condition, Trisomy 18.

Santorum and members of the audience were clearly emotional and the crowd was rapt, hanging on to every word.

Bella was admitted to the hospital two weeks ago with a grave case of double pneumonia. She was released a few days ago and the group today presented Santorum with a painting of his daughter with angel wings that will hang in the chapel, a space made to look like a Roman church.

He also brought up how he got involved in work to restrict abortion rights and when he first entered the Senate it was not an issue he was particularly passionate about, especially because it was a risky political move.

“You can be the most conservative person ever. You can even vote pro-life,” Santorum said. “You can vote against everything, you can vote for no government, and you’re fine. But once you speak out on the moral issues,  you now have your head above and out of the trench and you are going to be shot at.

“And that’s why most members of Congress won’t talk about it.  They’ll vote that way, but they will not go out and talk about this issue. Unless it’s in front of a pro-life group, and then the press gives you a pass.  But to actually do anything, then you were a theocrat, you were the pastor in chief. You are this radical that wants to try to force your views on everybody else and try to moralize everybody, when all you’re doing is standing up for the dignity of every human life. But that doesn’t matter.  It’s one thing to vote that way, but it’s another thing to get out and talk about those issues.”

He also addressed the California Proposition 8 ruling for the first time, which found the state’s ban on same sex marriage unconstitutional.

He said the decision read as though anyone who opposes same-sex marriage is “bigot.”

“Where’s the tolerance in that?” Santorum asked, calling the decision the “intolerance of the left.”

“They want their world view and if you question them, you’re haters, bigots,” Santorum said.

At the end, the group surrounded the candidate, extended their hands and began praying for his health, safety and candidacy.

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