HOLLIDAYSBURG - Emily Patterson and her daughter, Lori, both of Hollidaysburg, wore Rick Santorum badges and big smiles that wouldn't go away as the former Pennsylvania senator and Republican presidential candidate posed with them outside the Blair County Courthouse on Wednesday afternoon.
They thanked Santorum for bringing the presidential race to Hollidaysburg, and after handshakes and hugs, Lori, who once worked in the district attorney's office, said, "I've been following him in the race, and I hope he sticks with it until the primaries are over."
The question in the past couple of days for Santorum has been whether it's time to quit his race for the Republican nomination, particularly after Mitt Romney won three primaries on Tuesday and extended his delegate lead over Santorum, 655 to 278.
Santorum left little doubt in Hollidaysburg that he is staying in the race.
As he was introduced to more than 300 supporters, the curious and a few antagonists on the courthouse front patio, Santorum was handed a pair of boxing gloves by state Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair.
The second half of the primary season has started, Santorum said, pointing out the next elections are three weeks away. He raised a cheer when he said that it is "time to build momentum in Pennsylvania."
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator campaigning to be the Republican nominee for president, works the rope line greeting supporters after speaking Wednesday afternoon at the Blair County Courthouse. Among the supporters were Betty Ruhlman of Huntingdon County. To view more photos from Santorum’s visit, go to cu.altoonamirror.com
While Santorum lost the Wisconsin primary to Romney on Tuesday, he was buoyed by the 100,000-plus votes he received, and he said, "I think it shows there's a lot of fight left in conservatives of this country."
He said May will be an interesting month when Texas holds its primary and awards one of the candidates 154 delegates. Santorum had done well in the South.
"We have an opportunity to reset the race," he said as he stated, to applause, that a conservative has the best chance to defeat President Barack Obama in the fall.
He called "for a new beginning [of the race] in Pennsylvania."
Santorum called Blair County and the central part of the state "the heartland of conservatism in Pennsylvania."
But he also had other reasons for visiting Blair County. He had a cousin in Hollidaysburg, the late "Corney" Lusardi, who owned a popular restaurant just a half block from the courthouse.
His grandparents were from Somerset County, his grandfather was a coal miner, and that led him into one of the hot topics of his campaign - the need to take advantage of our natural resources for energy and jobs.
"We need to produce more energy - oil, gas and coal," he said.
He said Pennsylvania is experiencing a boom in energy production by drilling for natural gas, but he said if the natural gas reserves had been found in Nevada, there wouldn't be this economic boom because 90 percent of Nevada is owned by the federal government and the Obama administration won't permit drilling on federal land.
He called for drilling on federal land and off-shore, noting the creation of thousands of jobs and billions in tax revenue that could result.
Obama - and Romney - he said support "cap and tax."
He lashed out at Obamacare, the new federal health care legislation, that he said will fundamentally alter the relationship between Americans and their government, making residents 100 percent "dependent for their health and their life" on government.
He focused on the history of America and how those from foreign shores, including his grandparents, came here for freedom.
When he told people he was considering a run for the presidency, many replied, "Are you crazy?"
"I looked at the field and the problems of this country," Santorum said.
He said he and his wife "felt compelled to do what a lot of people have been doing. ... You feel you
couldn't sit on the sidelines anymore."
Giving Obama another term, he said, "This would be a fundamental change between the people and their government."
No longer would government be from the bottom up but from the top down.
He said this election is "ultimately about the role of government in everybody's life and whether Americans are going to pass the torch of freedom to the next generation."
He criticized the Obama administration for its foreign policy: the "whisper" between Obama and the Russian president last week; the criticism heaped on Israel, an ally; the catering to Iran; and Obama's lack of experience in the international arena.
He also criticized Romney for saying he would run as a conservative.
"We don't need someone who will run as a conservative. We want someone who is a conservative," Santorum concluded to applause.
Most of those who came to see Santorum were strong supporters, like the Wargo family, Robert and his wife, Augusta, from Petersburg, and their son, Mike, from Pittsburgh.
"He's a man with integrity and good conservative values," Robert said.
Mike said Santorum " is the only true conservative. Rick Santorum is the only hope we've got."
"I think he's just what we need," said Mrs. Wargo.
David Carey, 25, of Hollidaysburg was carrying a Santorum sign. "I like him. He's the most consistent and reliable [conservative] candidate," he said.
His mother, Brenda, said David was "weaned" on Rush Limbaugh. She said she didn't "trust" Romney's position on health care. Then she added, "We need jobs more than anything."
Joe Merilli was wearing a Santorum shirt, a badge and carrying a sign. Santorum, he said, "believes as we believe, small government, good moral values, everything we believe in central Pennsylvania."
Not all attending were Santorum supporters.
Sandra Williams and Ethan Lashlee of Johnstown, members of the Service Employees International Union, complained that Santorum represented the rich, not the poor and the union members said they were tired of rich corporations taking from the poor.
Penn State Altoona student Max Glasson carried a Ron Paul sign and held it high as Santorum began to speak. He said, "We need somebody to bring the Constitution back."
"Ron Paul is the only one remotely presidential," said Lin Wefeo of Hollidaysburg.