Santorum At Home With Values Voters

Santorum connects on religious issues, but can he segue into economics?

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Former Pennyslvania Sen. Rick Santorum is in familiar, friendly territory as the first GOP presidential candidate to speak at the 2011 Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. Wellknown as one of the true-blue social conservatives in the race where economic populism is all the rage, Santorum is aiming for the warmer, more uplifting brand of religious conservatism which served former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee so well in 2008.

He talks about using the presidential bully bulpit to redirect the conversation and change minds on issues like abortion and gay marriage, recalling how he supposedly convinced Vermont Democratic Senator Pat Leahy to change his mind on a partial-birth abortion bill. He says you don't lead by "trying to castigate people or divide the country." At one point, he brought his family onto the stage, and his voice cracked while recalling his son, Gabriel, who was born prematurely and died two hours after childbirth. "Our rights come from God, not just any god," Santorum said to large applause.

[Read about whether Perry, other conservatives will pick up Sarah Palin's supporters.]

But is he on as strong ground when pivoting to economic and national security issues? Trying to rework the famous "3 a.m. phone call" commercial from 2008, Santorum says, "They won't have to wake me up because I'll know what's going on in the world." Taking aim at surging businessman and GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, he mocks the former Godfather's Pizza CEO's "9-9-9" strategy, trying to one-up it with a "0-0-0" strategy. That standss for zero-percent corporate income tax, zero taxes on overseas profits, and "zeroing out" the regulations of the Obama administration. He also tries to recast unemployment as a moral issue, noting the poverty rate among single mothers and recalling his battles over welfare reform in the 1990s. For conservatives nostalgic for the days of the Moral Majority, that may work, but then again Santorum is in a race against the man who was the face of the Republican Party in the 1990's, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

[Read why Romney is gaining in the GOP race.]

First-time Value Voter attendee Matt Marton, from Whitehouse, N.J., praised Santorum for his sincerity on social issues. "I think he's a good candidate," Marton says, but notes that when he thinks of welfare reform, "I normally think of Gingrich."

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