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Rick Santorum Biography 1958-

. Richard John “Rick” Santorum was born May 10, 1958, in Winchester, Virginia, the second of three children. His father Aldo, an immigrant from Italy, is a psychologist, and his mother, Kay, is a nurse. The family was Catholic and attended church regularly, though Rick later described his parents’ religious practice as more dutiful than intense. Both Aldo and Kay Santorum worked for the Veterans Administration; mostly grew up in suburbs outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but graduated from high school in Illinois. He then attended Pennsylvania State University, where he pledged the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1980. He followed with an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh in 1981.

A lifelong Republican, the conservative Santorum volunteered for John Heinz’s campaign while still in college and then worked as an administrative assistant to Republican State Doyle Corman while putting himself through law school at Dickinson School of Law. Santorum earned his law degree in 1986 and started practicing law at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, where he met his future wife, Karen Garver Santorum, with whom he would eventually have seven children.

In 1990, a 32-year-old Rick Santorum ran for political office for the first time as a long-shot candidate for the United States House of Representatives from Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, representing the Pittsburgh suburbs where he had been raised. Surprising political experts, Santorum won the election, knocking seven-term Democratic incumbent Doug Walgren out of office. Particularly effective in that first campaign were Santorum’s charges that Walgren had lost touch with his constituents by spending too much time in Washington and not enough in his district. As a freshman congressman, Santorum became part of the so-called “Gang of Seven” of new GOP lawmakers (as did future Speaker of the House John Boehner); the group made its reputation by fiercely attacking corruption in the Democratic-controlled House, focusing in particular on the House banking scandal and the Congressional Post Office scandal.

Considered a rising star within the Republican Party, Santorum soon sought higher office and won election to the United States Senate in 1994, at the age of just 36, again knocking out a long-tenured Democratic incumbent in the general election. Six years later, Santorum won reelection to a second term and became chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, the third highest-ranking party leadership position in the Senate. A skilled and spirited partisan politician, Santorum became famous for his blunt and aggressive style in Congress, described as “confrontational, partisan, ‘in your face’ style of politics and government.”

Santorum garnered attention far beyond the borders of his Pennsylvania constituency for his vigorous advocacy of socially conservative views. “I’m out front on a lot of issues that matter to people of faith,” he said. A conservative Catholic, Santorum became one of Washington’s most prominent traditionalist voices on issues such as abortion, sexual morality, evolution and euthanasia. He introduced legislation that sought to attach to President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind education bill the teaching of “intelligent design” as an alternative to Darwinian evolution in science classes. He sought to prevent the husband of a brain-damaged Florida woman named Terri Schiavo from removing her from life support. And he adopted staunchly pro-life positions on all debates over abortion.

Santorum became the center of an odd national controversy in 2003 after he was quoted in an interview comparing consensual homosexual relationships to abusive “man on child, man on dog” sex. Liberals and gay rights activists reacted with outrage; nationally syndicated sex advice columnist Dan Savage took revenge by encouraging his readers to come up with a new definition for the word “santorum.” Their graphic and scatological neologism, promoted via one of the first successful “Google bombs” to game the search algorithm, remains the top-ranking result when one enters “Santorum” into the influential search engine. When Santorum began considering a presidential run in 2012, some commentators suggested that he had no chance to win, solely due to this “Google problem.”

During his second term in the United States Senate, Santorum became embroiled in a new controversy over his legal residence. Though officially residing in (and thus representing) Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, Santorum and his family spent most of their time in Leesburg, Virginia. His five eldest children were enrolled in a cyber school paid for at taxpayers’ expense; in 2004, the school board determined the children were not legal residents of the Penn Hills district and asked Santorum to repay the district for the cost of their education. This fight dragged on through 2006, opening the senator up to charges that he had abandoned his constituency and thus damaging Santorum’s reelection chances.

In 2006, a year in which Democrats nationwide made sweeping gains in congressional elections, Rick Santorum failed in his reelection campaign to Democrat Bob Casey, losing by a wide margin of 59-41 percent. In the wake of that loss, Santorum kept a relatively low profile on a national political scene; he ruled out a presidential run in 2008 and also bowed out of the 2010 race for Pennsylvania’s other seat in the United States Senate. Instead, Santorum resumed his work as a lawyer and also became a contributor to the conservative Fox News cable network.

In 2011, however, Rick Santorum reemerged as a potential 2012 presidential candidate, with his well-established social and fiscal conservatism appealing to the GOP’s energized Tea Party base. Santorum’s official website lists his campaign as a “formation of a testing-the-waters” effort, and he is expected to announce the launch of an official campaign in June 2011. Though his national polling numbers remain relatively weak, Santorum remains confident about his chances to pull off yet another underdog political victory, and very much enjoys the process: “It gives you the freedom to do what you truly believe is right,” he says.

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