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Rick Santorum: Why his convention speech matters (+video)

Rick Santorum is addressing the convention Tuesday night. Romney's primary foe is now a key ally in the battle to defeat Obama – and keep the party's social conservative wing in line. But there's also a downside.

David Grant reports from the floor of the 2012 Republican National Convention.
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Just a few months ago, Republican contender Rick Santorum was slamming Mitt Romney at every opportunity – over his Massachusetts health-care reform, his past as a “financier from Wall Street,” and as someone who would “say anything to be elected.”

Now, having dropped out of the GOP nomination race, the former US senator from Pennsylvania is an important ally, both in Mr. Romney’s quest for Republican unity and as an attack dog against President Obama. And when Mr. Santorum addresses the Republican National Convention, he will also – perhaps – be taking his next step toward another run for the presidency, either in 2016 or 2020.

The focus of Santorum’s speech Tuesday night is welfare reform, amid charges that Mr. Obama is weakening the work requirement for recipients of public assistance. Speaking Tuesday morning on CBS, Santorum called the new waiver program ‘‘a very, very serious assault’’ on welfare reform. Fact-checkers call the charge misleading. In the Senate, Santorum played an important role in enacting the 1996 reform.

Tuesday night in Tampa, Santorum brings to the stage his newly won star power as a leading voice of social conservatism – and an unspoken message that Romney, who governed Massachusetts as a moderate, can now be trusted.

Santorum’s appearance represents “another piece of the mosaic they’re trying to put together of a united Republican Party and conservative movement,” says Gary Bauer, a social-conservative leader who endorsed Santorum for president. “Republicans only win when they bring together social, economic, and foreign policy conservatives. I think it’s happening.”  

After Santorum dropped out of the presidential race in April, the final GOP contender to do so (except for Rep. Ron Paul), he waited to back Romney. And even when the endorsement came, it seemed grudging. But over time, he has become a loyal soldier in the battle to unseat Obama.

On the down side for Romney, Santorum’s return to the national stage also brings back discussion of last week’s sensational comment by Rep. Todd Akin, the GOP Senate candidate from Missouri who said women usually can’t get pregnant in cases of “legitimate rape.” (Congressman Akin opposes abortion without exception.) Top Republicans – from Romney on down – urged Akin to drop out, to no avail, in an episode that exacerbated the party’s internal tensions over the role of social issues in the campaign.

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