Aiken gets first look at Santorum

Former senator discusses family, plans to run for president

AIKEN — The Aiken Republican Party’s luncheon Monday was all about first impressions for former  U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum .

“I want to see him in person and get a sense of who he is,” Patricia Lobb said. “I work off intuition because so often politicians say one thing and do another. Meeting them in person helps a lot.”

The mostly baby boomer crowd of more than 200 gathered at Newberry Hall for the group’s first 2011 meeting,  brimming with 2012 election fever.

As the former Republican senator from Pennsylvania and presidential hopeful mingled during lunch, residents put questions about health care and the economy on the back burner to ask about Santorum’s family and why he thought he should run for  president.

Santorum told the crowd that his seven children prompted his intention to run, but  so did seeing “this country’s basic freedoms get whittled away in the last few years.”

Much of Santorum’s message read like his résumé with anecdotes. Stories highlighted being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990 at  age  32, seeking a Senate seat and joining the “Gang of Seven,” including current House Speaker  John Boehner, to tackle misappropriations of  House bank funds.

Santorum acknowledged how essential South Carolinians have become to making Republican presidential hopefuls actual nominees. South

Carolina holds the first Republican primary in the South, and each winner since 1980 has gone on to win the nomination.

“People are really revved up. I don’t think the last election wore us out; it just got us more active,” Det Haislip said.
Haislip said Aiken residents are politically savvy and don’t shy away from discussing politics, which means candidates can expect good questions .                                                              

 “Aiken’s connection has legs for the whole state,”   Haislip said.