HOLLIDAYSBURG - Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum received a warm welcome Wednesday from a crowd that included local residents and employees of the McLanahan Corp. when he called for the renewal of America's industrial base and a rebuilding of the middle class.
The backdrop for his first campaign stop of the day included the Blast and Paint Facility at McLanahan's and about 100 employees in yellow hard hats, who took a break from their work, listened to Pennsylvania's former two-term U.S. senator talk about his low-budget, grassroots run for the presidency.
Santorum was upbeat and enthusiastic as he basked in an unexpected high finish during the Aug. 13 Iowa straw poll.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum addresses employees at the McLanahan Corp. in Hollidaysburg on?Wednesday. Santorum called for the renewal of America’s industrial base, among other topics, during his stop.
"We finished fourth in Iowa and we got a huge bump," Santorum said.
A fourth-place finish behind U.S. Reps. Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul of Texas and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty may not seem like a major accomplishment. But to many in the crowd and to Santorum, the showing indicated his strategy of speaking to small groups of people and person-to-person contact as opposed to an expensive media blitz was effective.
Pawlenty has since dropped out of the race. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney skipped the Iowa straw poll, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry has since joined the fray.
Santorum's goal now is to continue his version of a national door-to-door campaign and to survive until the Iowa caucuses in January when he hopes to finish strong and get big support and money behind his effort.
He told the workers that he didn't want to bring his campaign to his home state "until I came out and showed this campaign had legs and I can win."
Now confident of his run, Santorum is moving across Pennsylvania this week with his message of economic revival.
He wants the jobs that flitted away from America to China and other countries in the past couple of decades brought back to America.
But he said, "We need to grow them back."
He proposes a program of reducing steep taxes on companies that sell products on the world market and a reduction in regulations that are strangling the effort to grow American businesses.
His message resonated with those at McLanahan's, a 135-year-old Blair County company that makes mining and agricultural equipment for a worldwide market.
His tax-reduction plan would benefit a company like McLanahan's, Santorum said.
He proposed an extensive energy-development effort to include coal mines and gas wells, noting those nations that are energy-sufficient are the most prosperous. Wind mills and solar panels do not fulfill the base need for electricity in America, he said, emphasizing that the "sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow all the time."
Nick Yon, who works in the Blast and Paint shop said Santorum brought a "good" message to the workers. He believes that America's industrial base can be revived.
Tom Gray of Altoona, whose weatherproofing business faltered when new construction tapered off during the recession, said, "I believe in what he says."
"I know there is hope out there," he said, as he enthusiastically offered his support for Santorum's ideas.
Another Altoona resident, Allan Beckwith, said he was working in retail even though he is a trained welder. He said he can't find a job in his field.
Beckwith is hoping American manufacturing can be revitalized.
Santorum "is our future," he said.
Republican officials, including state Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, and Blair County GOP Chairman A.C. Stickel, were pleased with Santorum's appearance, but they said they have not decided who of the many Republicans in the race to support at this point.
Santorum "has a message people get excited about. I think he connects well with people. He stands for conservative values and he is not afraid to say what he thinks," Eichelberger said.
Stickel said Blair County's Republican Party will not endorse any of the candidates in the primary, but he said "Rick generally represents the beliefs and values of Blair County."
He said Santorum made a "passionate appeal" in his speech.
If Santorum keeps speaking his message, "anything is possible," Stickel said.
Santorum, a Penn State graduate, is often mentioned because of his conservative social values, such as his pro-life stand. But on Wednesday when asked about the major issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, he didn't hesitate, saying, "Jobs."
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.