As a man in the audience pointed out, it took a while for Republican Party presidential hopeful Rick Santorum to state "the central issue" of the 2012 campaign Thursday night at the River Hills Country Club.
It's the economy, said Santorum, 53, who added that while other candidates might talk about "jobs, jobs, jobs," what sets him apart is his other message.
About 120 people attended the joint meeting of the York County Republican Party and Republican Women's club, where Santorum spoke largely on the need to restore America's "core values" and protect the family and church from an assault from "the Left."
"Something fundamental is at stake in this election," he said.
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"It's not just about the economy, national security or even about the 'right to life.' "
It's whether Americans would be able to pass on the same America they inherited, one founded on the idea that "rights come from a creator," he said.
The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania also derided President Barack Obama's health care overhaul frequently throughout his talk. He pledged to repeal it completely.
When audience members asked him to go deeper on his stance on taxation, education and the economy, Santorum shifted to those topics.
One man said without a plan for the economy, nothing else matters.
Santorum said passing a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, reviving manufacturing, and repealing health care reform were his top priorities. But he emphasized that he would be a leader who would remind Americans of their identity.
"We need a leader to remind us of who we are," he said. "The greatness of Ronald Reagan was not his policies. He reminded us of who we are."
Kevin Wright of River Hills challenged Santorum's views on freedom and religion. Wright asked Santorum how he would "build a bridge" and foster "togetherness" instead of "divisiveness."
Santorum said he believed in the "freedom to do what you ought to do, not what you want to do."
Togetherness isn't feasible, because, "Unfortunately, the libertarians as well as the left don't see freedom that way," Santorum said
One man asked how he plans to defeat the president.
Whoever faces Obama will be facing a "brutal machine," said Santorum, who's been out of political office since losing a Senate re-election bid in 2006.
He said his experience working in Congress to pass legislation was the reason he could win.
Santorum authored a bill that became law in 2003 banning "partial-birth abortions," a form of late-term abortions, and worked to reform welfare. He also was one of the congressional "Gang of Seven," a group of freshman representatives elected in 1990 known for criticizing scandals involving the House bank and the post office.
Santorum, whose campaign fundraising hasn't reached $600,000 yet, returned to York County for the second time since he joined the GOP field. His visit follows a fourth-place finish in the Iowa straw poll.
A recent Gallup poll had him as the seventh pick among Republicans, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the top, surging past former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Everyone is "enamored with Rick Perry" right now, said Alice Brite of Rock Hill. But she's not ready to rule out Santorum as a viable candidate.
His "passion and the way he explains conservative values" could "inspire" people, she said.