Santorum drew big ovations from hundreds gathered at a state-owned museum with calls for increased federal spending on defense and space programs and less spending on social welfare programs.
Standing under a Saturn V rocket hanging from the roof of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, he recalled watching the moon landing as a child. He also praised Huntsville’s importance to the Apollo missions and NASA in general.
“As an American, I want to say thank you Huntsville,” Santorum said. “Thank you for the work you’ve done.”
The former Pennsylvania senator pledged to spare the defense budget, if elected.
“I will not cut the defense budget while I’m president,” he said. “With a nuclear Iran, who knows what could be coming to this country.”
Santorum, a conservative, is waging a campaign on two fronts: to emerge, over rival Newt Gingrich, as conservatives’ preferred alternative to front-runner Mitt Romney, and to derail Romney’s march toward the GOP presidential nomination.
He and Gingrich are campaigning hard to win the more conservative Southern states, including Alabama and Mississippi, that will vote in the coming days,
Santorum says Romney is too much like President Barack Obama. Both, he said, oppose individual freedom in favor of government programs like the health care laws passed nationally, and in Massachusetts when Romney was governor.
Forty-seven Republican convention delegates are at stake in Alabama’s Republican primary on Tuesday. Romney visits Alabama today. Gingrich visited earlier in the week, including a stop at the space museum.
Decatur resident Robert Couey, who attended both space center events, said Thursday that he doesn’t support Romney, contending that Romney isn’t conservative enough. Couey said he likes Santorum, adding that he thinks Gingrich has been inconsistent on issues.
“He speaks with conviction,” Couey said of Santorum. “Gingrich is intelligent. He has the background but look at ... all the things he’s said.”
Huntsville resident Gay Nyberg said she was down to Santorum and Gingrich. Romney, she said, isn’t for her.
“I’m Newt or Rick,” Nyberg said. “I think the other guy is not a true conservative, and I don’t know that I can trust him to represent me.”