As presidential candidate Rick Santorum greeted the large crowd at the Aiken County Republican Club Tuesday, Judy Wagner rushed up and threw her arms around him with evident joy."If it wasn't for Ron Paul, I would certainly be for Santorum," Wagner said. "I really like him, and I think he would be my second choice."Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, drew a warm reception from the audience of nearly 300. H,e as well as Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, trail front-runner Mitt Romney by 11 to 15 points in some of the latest polls.A number of those in attendance expressed some pragmatism with the pivotal S.C. Republican Primary coming Saturday.Deedee Vaughters, a political activist who is seeking the S.C. Senate District 26 seat this year, said she has heard Santorum speak several times, including the major debate in Myrtle Beach Monday night."Santorum looks like a strong contender," Vaughters said. "At the end of the day, it will be the one who can beat Obama. I'm not sure Santorum is the one. But I would like to see someone with his ethics and morals running that office. I definitely will be supporting whoever the party selects."Santorum maintains that he is and should be the primary alternative to Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. Santorum pointed out his near-win in the Iowa caucuses and that could become a win soon. He didn't fare well in New Hampshire, but considering his lack of resources in both states, he considers himself 2-0 in the two primaries to date."We haven't spent as much as the others in South Carolina either," Santorum said. "It's amazing that a liberal Massachusetts governor is attacking me as being not conservative enough. Yet while I was serving in Pennsylvania, I was ridiculed for being too conservative. It won't wash and hopefully not in South Carolina."The presidential race this year is not just about the economy, Santorum said. The economy is struggling because the government is crushing it with regulations and high taxation, he said.President Barack Obama is leading a radical transformation away from the principles of the founding fathers, Santorum said."Obama wants leaders who have power and will rule over us, instead of a government with limited power that trusts free markets and the people," said Santorum. "Romney also doesn't have the authenticity of a principled conservative to take this on."Amy Brown of North Augusta said she had previously taken her four children to see Santorum in Columbia. Her oldest child, Luke, 12, wanted to attend Tuesday's luncheon to see the candidate again."He (Santorum) is a Christian and holds out to the same family values as we do," Brown said. "We home-school our children, too. It's just important to put my kids in front of a good Christian leader."Santorum rebukes Hillary Clinton's approach that it takes a village to raise children. He insists that it takes the family, not a village."We're blowing it," he said. "What we've done to education is what the government wants to do to health care. It's not the government's job to educate children. ... We have built a system to educate children instead of a marketplace to educate your child and get your child the best opportunity."As president, Santorum would work to repeal health care reform, referred colloquially as Obamacare. Santorum considers the legislation a terrible, unfunded mandate that requires all Americans to participate and depend on government for their health and their lives."When that happens, America changes," he said. "The reason Democrats fought so hard for it is that they know once they get this accomplished, the left will stay in power."Judy Phillips held on to a Santorum banner while the candidate participated in an on-air interview with Fox News.Yet "I'm not absolutely certain," she said. "But it's probably Santorum. I do think he's the real deal."See a gallery of photos from Santorum's visit by clicking here.Senior writer Rob Novit, a journalist for the past 41 years, has worked at the Aiken Standard since 2001. He covers education news and general assignments.
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