Santorum Starts Presidential Bid By Calling Himself Tougher Than Paul Ryan (VIDEO)

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Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is running for president, he announced this morning. And unlike many of his other rivals, who tiptoe around the controversial Republican plan to scrap Medicare while praising author Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Santorum jumped in this morning by calling himself tougher than Ryan when it comes to making hard choices about spending.

“I didn’t back down on trying to reform the Social Security system,” Santorum said when asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos about his 2006 race, which he lost in a landslide. “In an election year, I went out to the floor of the United States Senate with Jim DeMint and started arguing for reforming Social Security.”

“Not even Paul Ryan in his budget now, in the face of trillions of dollars of deficits currently, had the temerity to step forward and say we’ve got to do Social Security,” he added.All the Republican presidential candidates mention Ryan these days. But they use the words “courageous” or “inspiring” while doing it (and often while steering clear of formally endorsing his Medicare plan). Santorum is one of the few to use Ryan as an example of someone who’s not as courageous as he is.

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Santorum’s official announcement will come later this morning. On ABC this morning, he said he’s “in it to win” and — as he has since first suggesting the possibility that he would run — Santorum said he’ll do it by sticking out as the most pure conservative in the contest. Over the weekend at the Faith And Freedom Conference in DC, Santorum told a crowd of social conservatives that he’s been in their trenches for longer the others running.

“I just don’t take the pledge. I take the bullets,” he said, referring to the evangelical-friendly policy stances that have been a highlight of his political life.

Santorum appears to be trying to make the same contrast when it comes to economics. He’s already said that Ryan’s plan is too weak because it doesn’t include “the current generation of seniors” and this morning suggested that it needs to include reforms of Social Security as well.

Running as the hardliner may get Santorum some headlines, but so far it hasn’t done much for his campaign. Polls so far have shown him barely registering among Republican primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, though he has won a couple of straw polls in the states and has devoted more time to early state primary visits than most other candidates.

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