There's an old saying in politics, that as Pennsylvania doesn't go, so goes the nation six years later.
OK, actually there's no such saying. but that's the theory behind former Pennsylvanian Rick Santorum's audacious new career move: Seeking the 2012 GOP presidential nomination by rallying social conservatives, who tend to be strongest outside the ex-senator's supposed home base in the Northeast.
Santorum went on the right-leaning Fox News Channel -- where else? -- tonight with Greta van Susteren to announce that he's forming a 2012 presidential exploratory committee, which will allow him not only to raise money for next year's primaries but also take part in televised debates starting next month.
He moved toward the race with the obligatory shot at the man he hopes to oppose in a general election: President Obama. He told Van Susteren that Americans in 2008 elected a man they thought they could believe in, but "what they realize is that America needs a president who believes in them."
Still, Santorum didn't sound all in the White House race unless conservatives show him the money. "Resources is a huge part of it," he said of the fundraising committee. "We're out there to find out whether it's real or not."
The announcement isn't exactly a shock. In recent months, Virginia-resident Santorum has practically made Iowa -- the early 2012 caucus state larded with voters from the Religious Right -- yet another new home state. Earlier this year, Fox News Channel -- where he'd been drawing a paycheck as an analyst since voters booted him from office in 2006 -- took him off the air because it seemed clear he was running. (Santorum also wrote a column for the Inquirer until last summer.)
Still, Santorum's candidacy may be a surprise to Pennsylvanians who thought they'd ended his political career by sending him to a landslide defeat in 2006 when he sought a third term against now-Sen. Bob Casey. Most pundits thought Santorum's out-there statements on social issues like homosexuality -- which at various times he related to bigamy or "man-on-dog" sex -- were what turned off voters in a moderate swing state.
Indeed, a former GOP Senate colleague, Wyoming's Alan Simpson, called out Santorum by name in a shot at social conservatives this week for saying "cruel, cruel things about homosexuals." Even Van Susteren grilled Santorum about bizarre comments in a recent radio interview saying Social Security might have a rosier fiscal future if one-third of all U.S. pregnancies weren't aborted. The ex-senator said he was answering a question but that "abortion should be outlawed because it is morally wrong" -- not for economic reasons.