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Santorum Vows Vigorous Fight for Texas

Rick Santorum promised Thursday in San Antonio to mount a vigorous campaign to win the Texas primary, saying the state could help him “reset” the race.

Rick Santorum walking onstage at the CNN debate in Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 19, 2012.

SAN ANTONIO — Rick Santorum promised Thursday to mount a vigorous campaign to win the Texas primary in May, saying the state with the second-largest pool of delegates could help him “reset” the race.

“I’m going to spend a lot of time in Texas. This is an important state for us,” Santorum told reporters after holding a town hall meeting at the USAA insurance company in San Antonio. “We’re going to keep coming. People are very hospitable to us.”

Despite being a fierce and early critic of Gov. Rick Perry during his short-lived presidential run, the former Pennsylvania senator had nothing but praise for his former rival.

“I’ve been very public about my affection for him,” Santorum said. “I really enjoyed him on the campaign trail.”

Santorum said he had spoken to Perry several times since Perry got out of the race on Jan. 19. He said he likes to “just stay in touch, check in, let him know when I’m coming to the state, things like that.”

He also said he has tried to get Perry to support him, to no avail. Perry endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich after exiting the race.

“He’s made a different decision, and I’m going to respect that,” Santorum said. Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said Perry “looks forward to the Texas primary and will continue supporting Speaker Gingrich in whatever capacity he is able.”

Santorum didn’t have any praise for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He characterized him as a candidate who will say anything to win, even if it means distorting the record of his opponents.

“They are so disingenuous, so interested in just playing gotcha to win, instead of having a really higher-level debate and discussion about what’s important to America,” Santorum said. “Americans and conservatives and hopefully Republicans generally are tiring of the negativity of the gotcha.”

To illustrate the point, Santorum carried an Etch A Sketch to his speech. The prop, and the repeated mentions of it, are designed to capitalize on a top Romney aide’s comment that the front-runner could reframe his campaign message for the general election — just “shake it up and restart it all over again” like the popular toy.

At one point Santorum said voters "might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk with what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate of the future.”

Romney spokesman Ryan Williams wasted no time firing back at Santorum.

“The only thing conservatives are getting tired of is Rick Santorum and his failed record in Washington. That is why voters in state after state continue to reject his candidacy and his support for wasteful earmarks and big government programs,” Williams said. “Conservative leaders like Jeb Bush are calling for Republicans to unite behind Mitt Romney because they know he is the only person who can defeat President Obama and return fiscal sanity to our government.”

Williams also said voters were smart enough to see the "eye-rolling irony of a Washington politician like Rick Santorum lecturing people about high-minded political discourse while he's waving around a plastic child's toy at the same time."

Santorum faces a big test this weekend in Louisiana, where he is positioned to do well. But there are more than a dozen contests between now and the May 29 Texas primary, and many of those are likely to fall to Romney.

Santorum said during his town hall discussion that his campaign will be alive and well in late May, and he urged voters to give him a big win.

“This race will not be over when Texas is coming around, and you’re going to have a choice and an opportunity, to really, as I think will happen again on Saturday, reset the race,” Santorum said.

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