Metro

Santorum does not plan to spend a lot of time in N.H. if he runs for president

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Former Pennsylvania US Senator Rick Santorum returned to New Hampshire, saying that if he ran for president a second time he would spend significantly less time in the Granite State campaigning.

Santorum attended just one event in New Hampshire on Tuesday, delivering a keynote address to a statewide social conservative organization’s fund-raiser. It was only his second trip to the state since the 2012 election and the first in over a year. During the same period he has been to Iowa 13 times, the site of the kickoff presidential nomination contest that he won four years ago.

He is expected to announce a run for president in a matter of weeks.

Advertisement

In an interview, Santorum said after visiting New Hampshire 30 times during the 2012 campaign -- and finishing fifth in the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary -- he believes that Granite Staters have a good handle on him. He now wants to focus on building a national campaign.

Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“In looking at this race I think the wisdom is that this race could be a jumbled race for a long time,” Santorum said. “To put all your eggs in the first two or three states doesn’t really make a lot of sense from our prospective. So we are looking at opportunities where we think we can do well.”

These days, Santorum said he wants to build on the national political base he created in the previous campaign. Still, if he runs he said he expects to visit and hire staff in New Hampshire.

The bulk of his 35-minute speech to New Hampshire Cornerstone focused on three areas: his daughter Bella, a 7-year-old with disabilities, economic populism, and a full-throated defense of his social conservative views.

To the crowd of a few hundred of the state’s key social conservative activists, he said that if elected president he would bring attention to “the breakdown of the American family,” similar to the way President Obama consistently brings attention to climate change.

Advertisement

He also urged the crowd to back someone for president who was a proven conservative, not just the choice seen as electable.

“You will be told that you have to nominate someone who can win,” Santorum said. “The last two elections we nominated someone who was electable. How did that work out for us? I thought being electable meant that you won. They lost.”

While Santorum would begin the contest with significantly more name recognition and some knowledge of the process of running for president than he did last time, he still has poll numbers in the low single digits in Iowa and New Hampshire among likely Republican voters.

Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania who has analyzed Santorum for decades, said there is a “why not” quality to Santorum running again in 2016.

“He has every reason to run. There is no front-runner, anything can happen, and he becomes relevant just by running,” said Madonna. “Why not run?”

Advertisement

Plus, Santorum’s timing in New Hampshire could be perfect. The social conservative base in the state is fired up after last year’s election saw the first pro-choice Republican statewide nomination since 1986, with Scott Brown running for US Senate and Walt Havenstein as the party’s standard bearer for governor.

“There are a lot of pro-life candidates to choose from and right now there isn’t a front-runner for anyone,” said Ellen Kolb, a blogger and pro-life activist who supported Santorum last time.

Proof of Santorum’s challenge in New Hampshire is to now consolidate the Republican base around him. On Wednesday morning, Texas Senator Ted Cruz will announce that he has the support of three prominent conservatives in the state, including former US Senator Bob Smith, former New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O’Brien, and Executive Councilor David Wheeler.

Still, Santorum said there is value to doing some campaigning and finishing well in New Hampshire.

“In a crowded race a nice little slice of the pie up here could be a very good thing,” he said.

James Pindell can be reached at James.Pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.