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Santorum dons Reagan mantle at GOP icon’s Downstate birthplace

Republican presidential candidate former PennsylvaniSen. Rick Santorum talks supporters during rally Monday March 19 2012 Moline Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum talks to supporters during a rally Monday, March 19, 2012, in Moline, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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Updated: March 20, 2012 6:47PM



DIXON, Ill. – Republican Rick Santorum used his final hours of campaigning in Illinois Monday to visit the hometown of President Ronald Reagan, saying he is the only presidential candidate with conservative credentials worthy of comparison to the state’s only native-born president.

“Ronald Reagan understood faith plus family equals freedom in America,” Santorum said in laying out the broad themes of his campaign to cheers from a sign-waving crowd of about 500 evangelicals, Roman Catholics and Tea Party loyalists.

The choice of Reagan’s hometown was another effort by Santorum to generate a big conservative turnout in Tuesday’s Illinois primary, particularly Downstate. That support will be necessary for him to counteract Romney’s backing from suburban moderates and to possibly prevail in an upset that could alter the course of the Republican presidential campaign.

“I need you to rise up and speak loudly from the place of freedom here in Dixon, Illinois,” said Santorum, dressed in an open collar and blue jeans. “Let the voice of Reagan be heard across this land.”

Alternately bashing Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, the former Pennsylvania senator invoked the ex-president’s name over and over while standing in the shadow of a statue of a youthful-looking, horseback-riding Reagan erected along the Rock River in downtown Dixon.

Santorum described himself — not Romney — as the only Republican presidential candidate who “stands on the pillars of what Ronald Reagan built as the modern Republican Party.”

The former Pennsylvania senator slammed Romney for having “abandoned freedom” while governor of Massachusetts with his support of a government-run health-care program that predated the one Obama championed on a national scale.

Santorum also tied his own pursuit of the White House with Reagan’s “insurgent campaign” against the Republican establishment in 1976, when he failed to dislodge incumbent President Gerald Ford, and then, four years later, when he defeated Democrat Jimmy Carter.

“We have someone who is the choice of the establishment Republicans, someone whose turn it was,” Santorum said. “We’ve seen that so often in Republican politics for president. It’s almost inevitable whoever is the next in line, that’s who the Republicans tend to put forward. Ronald Reagan said, ‘No, we don’t need the next in line. We need someone very different.’ ”

“Make this election like the election of 1980. Don’t make it about who can best manage Washington, who’ll be the CEO of the economy,” he said in a dig at his rival’s familiar stump lines.

The campaign stop didn’t draw one of Santorum’s larger crowds, enabling him to sign autographs and mingle briefly one on one with people.

John Shippert, a 64-year-old Roman Catholic and retired public school teacher, said he is wary of Romney’s “flip-flops” on abortion rights and health care and is uncomfortable with his Mormon faith, which he described as “a totally false religion, and it’s really a cult.”

Of Santorum, Shippert said, “The conservative vote in Illinois is for him. He’s a good man, and I think he’s very truthful. I think we can believe him.”



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