FAIRFIELD — Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum sought to sell his conservative credentials to California Republicans Thursday, using a stop at the Jelly Belly Candy Co. to compare himself to one of the sweet's most famous fans – the late President Ronald Reagan.
Santorum told the crowd at the Fairfield company's factory store that the country needs a leader who will emulate the policies and approach of the conservative icon, who was enshrined in two candy-created portraits hanging outside the room where his afternoon rally was held.
"I've been in consistency with the Reagan vision," he said. "He stood for life. He stood for the integrity of the family."
While he said his conservative principles, stance on the economy and opposition to the federal health care overhaul all channel Reagan's positions, Santorum made their similarities on foreign policy a major focus of his 34-minute speech.
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The former Pennsylvania senator called national security one of the "greatest failings" of Obama's presidency, assailing the president for failing to lead on missile defense, publicly setting a timeline for withdrawing from Afghanistan and not doing enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
"We've seen what it is when you have a president with on-the-job training on national security," he said.
He highlighted a recent conversation between Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that was inadvertently broadcast by a hot microphone, in which Obama could be heard telling Medvedev that he will have "more flexibility" on missile defense after the election.
"Ronald Reagan didn't whisper to (Mikhail) Gorbachev, 'Give me some flexibility.' He walked out of Iceland and said, 'You'll either do this or we will have no deal,' " Santorum said, referencing Cold War-era talks with the former Soviet Union leader.
Santorum also criticized his chief rival in the race, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whom he trails by double digits in polls of California Republicans.
Santorum said voters don't need someone whose "public policy is written on an Etch A Sketch, but someone whose public policy is written on his heart."
Such lines appealed to voters like John and Susan Davis of Fairfield. Both said they trusted Santorum's conservative convictions the most out of the remaining candidates. "I want someone who will recognize God's plan for the USA and who will remember God was a foundation of this country," Susan Davis said.
With California's primary still two months away, a major point of Santorum's trip was to refuel his campaign account ahead of upcoming contests, including next week's balloting in Wisconsin. Two fundraisers were scheduled to follow the rally.
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