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Rick Santorum on why possible debate snub might not matter

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum ranks No. 11 in early polling for the Republican primaries. For the first GOP debate, only the top 10 candidates will be invited to the prime-time portion.

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Presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters on Monday in Washington, DC.

Bryan Dozier

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Former Sen. Rick Santorum, runner-up in the 2012 GOP presidential primaries, plays down the consequences of being No. 11 in early polling for the 2016 race – even though only the top 10 candidates will be invited to the prime-time portion of the first Republican debate.

“A lot of things that happen six, seven months before an election sound big at the time but in the end don’t turn out to be very consequential,” Mr. Santorum said Monday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters.

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Fox News has said that to be on the main stage at its Aug. 6 debate in Cleveland, a candidate must place in the top 10 of an average of the five most recent national polls as conducted by major organizations.

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While playing down the importance of being onstage for the main event, Santorum said it was “a miscarriage” by the Republican National Committee to agree to the process, which includes an afternoon forum for candidates below the top tier.

The arrangements undermine “the process that was established by the RNC to let the states and voters actually make that call as opposed to the national media,” he said.

To emphasize how polls can be flawed, Santorum noted that he was at 4 percent in national polls when he narrowly beat Mitt Romney, the eventual 2012 nominee, in the Iowa caucuses.

In a statement to Bloomberg News, Fox executive vice president for news Michael Clemente said, “National polls are the traditional, time-tested yardstick by which presidential hopefuls have long been measured and remain the fairest, most objective and most straight-forward metric for gauging the viability of these candidates.”

On other subjects at Monday’s breakfast, Santorum defended Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, despite disagreeing with the two decisions in which the chief justice voted to uphold the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare.

“Everyone is entitled to a mistake every now and then, and I think he has made one mistake twice,” Santorum said. “That is disappointing, but he has also written a lot of good and strong opinions.... By and large, he has been a pretty solid Supreme Court justice.”

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During the 2012 election cycle, Santorum suspended his campaign because his youngest daughter, Bella, was having serious health issues. “She is doing better than she has ever done, and has now for about three years,” he said Monday. “If she was in the same position she was four years ago, I wouldn’t be sitting here.”

Santorum said the amount that his wife, Karen, devotes to the 2016 campaign would be determined in part by Bella’s need for 24-hour care. “If Karen is not there, we’ve got to hire someone to be there. That becomes economically challenging,” he said.