Rick Santorum speaks at Aiken GOP luncheon

AIKEN -- Former Sen. Rick Santorum spoke to a full house at Tuesday’s meeting of the Aiken Republican Club, touting himself as the truest conservative in the Republican presidential field.

“This is the most important election you’re going to vote in, and we need a clear contrast to what’s in the White House right now,” he said.

Ed Scanlon was in the audience and while he agrees with what Santorum was saying, he won’t be choosing a candidate until the last minute. The field is too broad to make the decision easy, he said.

“I could live with any of them as long as they aren’t Obama,” he said.

Scanlon first became familiar with Santorum when he was a guest host on Bill Bennett’s radio program Morning in America. Santorum’s common sense approach and experience with welfare reform is something that Scanlon likes, but he hasn’t written off the other candidates.

“I’m not nearly as unhappy about Mitt Romney as a lot of conservatives are,” he said. “I just want someone who will sling mud as hard as the Democrats.”

Santorum spoke to about 300 attendees about his success in the Iowa caucus despite only spending $30,000 in television ads.

He asked South Carolina voters not to compromise on core conservative values.

“People think this election is about the economy, but it’s about a lot more than the economy,” he said. “This is a state that believes in the heart and soul of the conservative movement.”

Santorum has seven children ranging in age from 3 to 20, and he talked about the sacrifices they are making for him to run for president. He wouldn’t ask this of them, he said, unless he thought the country was in crisis.

“There are other places I could be and probably should be,” he said. “I owe it to my children, though, to give them a country that my grandfather and my father and generations before us fought for.”

Michele Merritt said she liked what Santorum had to say, but her main concern is that Republicans who don’t want Romney will split the vote between Newt Gingrich and Santorum.

“I really, really don’t want Romney to get the nomination,” she said. “There are a lot of us that are concerned about this and we don’t know what to do.”

Merritt will be attending the Last Word Before the First in the South presidential forum tonight at USC Aiken, where she will hear Gingrich answer questions and address the audience. Sometime between Tuesday night and Saturday, she said, she’ll have to make up her mind. Hearing Santorum speak gave him a more personable feel, she said.

See more staff photos from the event

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