Does former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum stand a chance of winning the GOP nomination?
Not likely, say the polls and pundits. The former Pennsylvania lawmaker's presidential campaign has never taken off. But the social conservative and foreign policy hawk has asserted that a strong showing in Iowa -- where he's made more stops than any other GOP contender -- could thrust him right into the mix.
Santorum has always been considered a pro-Israel politician, even by some opponents, though others thought of him as too far to the right on Middle East issues. A Nov. 28 opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post by Dovid Efune, a rabbi and journalist, ranked him first among the GOP candidates on Israel. (Texas Rep. Ron Paul was ranked last.)
At the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidate's Forum in Washington, D.C., last week, Santorum emphasized his support for Israel and his quest for a more robust response to rogue nations like Iran.
Referring to the program's Dec. 7 date -- the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor -- Santorum said that Americans must remain vigilant abroad. Even as his competitors zero in on jobs and the economy, Santorum has remained focused on foreign policy.
"I believe that there is a very good chance that by next election day, the national security issue will be of a higher priority in the eyes of the American public than the economy," he said.
During his time in office -- he served in the Senate from 1994 to 2006 and in the House from 1990 to 1994 -- he was loathed by many liberals for his conservative stances on social issues. In one example, his controversial book, It Takes a Family, argued that more working mothers should stay at home.
In 2006, he was trounced by Democrat Bob Casey, who also opposes abortion. But just a few months later, in an interview with the Jewish Exponent, Santorum seemed unfazed by the loss, sounding like someone with plans to seek higher office.
In the RJC speech last week, Santorum charged the Obama administration with failing to take the Iran threat seriously. He also blasted the president for not closing the American Embassy in Syria, where the regime has engaged in a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.
In the question-and-answer period, Santorum was asked how someone who is moderate on social issues could vote for him. His answer? All of the Republicans have similar positions on social issues. He happens to speak more forcefully, he said.
Several local RJC members said that although they had supported Santorum for the U.S. Senate, they didn't think he'd make the best presidential nominee. Some said privately that they think he's pushing ahead, hoping for a Cabinet position if a Republican wins the White House.
Matt Handel, a Blue Bell pharmaceutical executive, said, "We are not talking about a yes or no, do we support Rick Santorum? It's a matter of, are there other people who just might be a little bit better suited with their experience and focus right now."
Fellow RJC member Stuart Green said that Santorum's "done a lot of good things, but I think the optics on him are incredibly challenging. I just don't see a scenario where he can overcome his reputation."
But Harrisburg attorney Eric Morrison said he had backed Santorum for Senate and he's backing him for president.
"Sen. Santorum is extremely knowledgeable about foreign policy. He has studied the Middle East, he is someone that I trust," said Morrison. "A lot of people still need to hear his message. A lot of people just hear about one issue -- his social conservative issues -- but he's a much deeper candidate than that."