Rick Santorum's Last Stand?

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A tired and hoarse candidate made what could be his final significant appeal in in the contest as Super Tuesday loomed.

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WESTERVILLE, OHIO -- It was a slightly tired-looking and sounding Rick Santorum who greeted supporters at an American Legion post in Westerville, on Columbus' north side Monday afternoon. His voice a bit hoarse, Santorum began by setting the stakes for Ohio's role on Super Tuesday, "It's always make or break here."

Polling has shown Mitt Romney has pulled ahead of Santorum in Ohio among GOP primary voters and a loss here could mean the end of the road for Santorum, whose long-short presidential bid has gone further than he may have dared to dream, but is now foundering from a lack of resources. Romney has spent $12 million on negative TV ads in Ohio, compared to Santorum's less than $1 million, the candidate said.

His hour long remarks, delivered without notes, touched on Ohio's economic problems and loss of manufacturing jobs, as well as Santorum's working-class ancestors, like his coal-mining grandfather. But it was his attacks on President Barack Obama and Obama-style socialism, "thousands of new regulations...that are crushing American business", and his claim that under Obama government is trying to take over every aspect of American life, that drew standing ovations from the conservative crowd.

"This country was founded on the idea of God given rights, not government given rights," Santorum declared.

Curiously, most of Santorum's remarks focused not on the economy or his social conservative record but on a Reagan-like message of American exceptionalism and military strength, and an attempt to project optimism.

"We are a country that inspires people all over the world, we are that shining city on a hill," he said.

Under Obama's continued leadership, Santorum predicted "We will be the generation that lost faith with what makes America great."

Obama is too busy apologizing for American troops and appeasing and placating radical Islam, he declared, citing a lack of action against Iran and its suspected nuclear weapons program.

"It's really simple, we have to have a president that believes...that America has been a source for good, not a source for evil," he said.

Santorum also took a number of swipes at Romney. "We're not just the party of tax cuts," Santorum said, "this election is about big things."

Santorum concluded with an all-out appeal to conservative values and suggested that Romney, like Obama, was not morally up to the job, telling the crowd they need to elect "someone we can trust -- our honor is on the line...do the duty your honor requires," he implored. "We have to have someone who can stand on principle."

Santorum connected his message of American strength with his oft-espoused family values message, which many in the crowd said was the reason they were supporting him.

"Faith plus family equals freedom," Santorum said.

Wendy Sizemore, who grows corn and soybeans on her family farm in Central Ohio, said she is for Santorum because of his "family values" and because it is so important to defeat Obama. She said she thinks Romney is "kind of shifty" and is trying to "buy the election."

Santorum has been the last of the GOP candidates to rise to the top of the pack and try to threaten Romney's superior organization and financial advantages. Ultimately, they have all fallen short.

But voters like the hundreds who packed the American Legion hall here were clearly looking for the conservative message they got from Santorum and not what they've been hearing from Romney.

What seemed to excite them the most though was the prospect of defeating Obama in November. What remains unclear at this point is whether that desire will trump their antipathy for Romney.

Image credit: Reuters

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Linda Killian is a Washington journalist and a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Her book The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents was published in January 2012 by St. Martin's Press.

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