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Today’s front page Washington Post profile of former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum makes it pretty clear that the controversial one-time lawmaker plans a run for president. He is spending a lot of time in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina – home to the first three 2012 presidential nomination contests.

“If someone gets in the race that I feel really comfortable could do the things that need to be done -- both winning and governing -- then maybe this is a chance to say, 'Let this cup pass,'" Santorum told the Post. "At this point,” he continued, “I'm not feeling that."

Prior to 2006, Santorum had never lost an election, including two statewide Senate races. But his hard line conservatism eventually caught up with him in Pennsylvania, still, at its core, a Democratic state.

NCR spoke to Santorum in late 2005, just as his 2006 Senate race was getting underway and speculation about a possible 2008 presidential bid was picking up. That speculation was scuttled when, in November 2006, Santorum was trounced (59 percent to 41 percent) by the popular, pragmatic, and less polarizing Bob Casey.

Today, like so many Republican presidential hopefuls, he is a Fox News contributor while serving as a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative DC think tank. (The Center is also the professional base of John Paul II biographer George Weigel).

Will Iowa’s Christian-conservative Republicans be kinder to the 53-year-old Catholic than Pennsylvania’s more pragmatic electorate?

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The Santorum bet: the large 2012 Republican field sees its Hawkeye State vote divided among more traditional candidates , leaving the activist Christian conservative base of Iowa’s Republican Party to determine the caucus winner.

This scenario assumes, among many other things, that Sara Palin opts out of a 2012 presidential race and the winner of the 2008 caucus, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, does like way or fades in popularity.

A long-shot? No doubt. But stranger things have happened.

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