BOWLING GREEN — Rick Santorum reaffirmed his position as an alternative to Republicans who believe a moderate candidate has the best shot to unseat President Obama in the fall, saying moderates don't inspire voters.
Mr. Santorum, addressing the Wood County Republican Party's annual Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner Saturday night, said his views on smaller, less intrusive government are what will propel the GOP back to the White House.
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"Pundits always say always nominate the moderate … Moderates do not have the best chance of winning … because they don't inspire with conviction and vision," he said to applause at Bowling Green State University.
Mr. Santorum and fellow presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist were the featured speakers before 750 people in the student union ballroom.
Mr. Santorum vowed that as president, he would cut $5 trillion from the federal budget and work for a balanced budget amendment. But he drew his loudest applause in his 30-minute address and a standing ovation when he pledged, "I will not cut the military. I will make sure America has the strongest military in the world."
He criticized Mr. Obama for creating a national health-care program as an example of government overreach that creates dependency among the people.
A better plan that should be expanded is the creation of individual health-savings accounts, which he said he advocated with John Kasich when Mr. Kasich, now Ohio governor, was a congressman.
"The problem with socialized medicine or socialized anything is it's a narcotic … because you'll be given something for nothing and you are happy about it."
In his 15-minute address, former House Speaker Gingrich extolled his plan to make America energy-independent by removing barriers to drilling for oil on the continent as well as in the Gulf of Mexico and in new oil fields of Alaska.
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Mr. Gingrich, who trails former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Mr. Santorum in the chase for delegates needed to clinch the GOP nomination, chided Mr. Obama for telling the American people there is "no silver bullet" that would end the high price of energy.
"But there is a presidential pen" that can be used to sign legislation approving the controversial Keystone pipeline that would carry oil from the Canadian oil sands to Louisiana and increase offshore drilling.
By using modern technology, "We will be the largest oil producer in the world," he said. "I want to tell the President, we should drill, drill, drill," picking up the refrain championed by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
In a line that drew strong applause, Mr. Gingrich said that as a matter of national security, "we should have as our goal to be energy independent so that no president has to bow to a Saudi" ruler.
Anti-tax crusader and lobbyist Grover Norquist said he would be satisfied to see any of the top three candidates seeking the Republican nomination challenge Mr. Obama this fall.
Mr. Norquist, a conservative activist and president of Americans for Tax Reform, said Mr. Santorum, Mr. Romney, and Mr. Gingrich have all pledged to not raise taxes if elected president, a strong tenet of his goal to reduce the size of government.
In an interview before addressing the annual Wood County Republican Party's annual Lincoln-Reagan Day dinner, Mr. Norquist said he does not plan to endorse any of the candidates.
"It's like walking into a room of beautiful women. They're all acceptable," he said.
In his speech, Mr. Norquist said one issue that resonates with voters is "they want to be left alone" from intrusive government. "We simply have to agree to be left alone."
Mr. Norquist defended the pledge his organization asks Republicans to sign in support for his organization's support, calling it a form of "branding" that lets voters know the officeholder is a fiscal conservative who will not raise taxes.
"Elected public officials who vote to raise tax are rat heads," Mr. Norquist said. "Part of winning the next elections is not giving them the money."
Mr. Norquist said the anti-tax pledge is made "to voters of each state … not to me."
As a result, 238 members of the House and 49 senators have taken the pledge, as well as the four remaining GOP candidates for president.
Izzy Santa, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green), who hosted the function, said all the candidates were invited to speak.
Mr. Romney, who leads the delegate count over Mr. Santorum173-87 before Saturday's Washington caucuses, was unable to attend. Speaking in his place was to be Betty Montgomery, former state attorney general and state auditor who serves as a special adviser to Mr. Kasich.
Contact Jim Sielicki at: email@example.com or 419-724-6050.