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Santorum says 2006 Senate defeat was a 'gift'

Jessica Kourkounis / Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum greets supporters during a campaign stop at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference on Saturday in Camp Hill, Penn.

 

CAMP HILL, Penn. -- Returning to the home state that delivered him an embarrassing double-digit loss in his last Senate race, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum described the 2006 defeat as a "gift" that allowed him to distance himself from the daily politics of Washington.

"The people of Pennsylvania didn't always give me what I wanted, but they always gave me what I needed,"  he said in morning remarks to the conservative Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. " And it was a great, in many respects, for me a great gift to get away, to separate out, to get back and involved in the private sector and have a little distance from Washington to see what was going on."


Conceding that the complaints of conservatives "didn't quite resonate with me" while he was a member of Congress, Santorum said his ouster allowed him to see the legislative process from a perspective that explained Americans' frustrations with Washington.

"It was really an eye-opening awakening experience for me, and I took that as a good sort of self-correction," he said.

Conceding that he got "creamed" in his own home state, Santorum was gleeful when a member of the audience shouted out to compare his electoral pattern to that of another famous American president who won the White House after a difficult statewide run.

"Abraham Lincoln, that's right!" he exclaimed.

Santorum, who hopes a strong performance in the state's April 24 primary will offer his campaign a boost of legitimacy, contrasted that "outsider" mantle with rival Mitt Romney's "Etch-a-Sketch" politics.

Brandishing the child's toy that became an instant metaphor for Romney after an adviser invoked it during a CNN interview, Santorum won prolonged applause for declaring. "Folks, we don't need people who write their public policy in Etch-a-Sketches!"

The former Pennsylvania senator - honing in on energy issues along with his frequent criticisms of Romney's backing of the individual mandate in his state's health care bill - said that Romney is "uniquely disqualified" to run against President Barack Obama.

"We don't as conservatives want a candidate that we can't trust to say the same thing before two different groups," he said.

In concluding his lengthy address, Santorum predicted a strong performance Saturday in Louisiana's primary contest and urged home staters to support him.

"I'm not asking you to help me as a favorite son," he said. I'm asking you to stand up and do it for your sons and daughters so they will be free."