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Rick Santorum Enters Crowded GOP Presidential Field; Focus Turns to Disabled Daughter, Duggar Family Scandal

( [email protected] ) May 28, 2015 12:56 PM EDT

Rick Santorum
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), with wife Karen (R), daughter Bella, 7, and the rest of the family, announces his candidacy for the 2016 Republican nomination for president at Penn United Technologies May 27, 2015 in Cabot, Pennsylvania. This is the second run for Santorum, who finished runner-up in 2012 to nominee Mitt Romney. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images North America)

Outspoken Catholic and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum entered the Republican presidential nomination process on Wednesday, attempting to cast himself as a conservative populist and champion of the working class. His second run for the presidency has also turned the focus to his disabled daughter and whether or not the controversial Duggar family will support him again.

According to Jane C. Timm of MSNBC, Santorum emerged on the national stage back in 2012 as a socially conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, who ended up securing the presidential nomination but losing the general election to President Barack Obama. He has received evangelical and grassroots conservative support due to his controversial stands on gay marriage and other "Christian views."

"I am proud to stand here among and for you, the American workers who have sacrificed so much, to announce that I am running for president," Santorum said.

Timm speculated that Santorum would focus on economic populism and the plight of the middle class as a way to grow his base.

"Well what about those politicians, for all those years, what did they do? What did they do for communities across this area and across this country in small town America?" Santorum asked. "They had no plan and they provided no hope and to that I say, 'no longer.'"

Santorum added that he would "take money and power out of Washington and put it back where our Constitution says it belongs, in the people who earn it." According to Timm, he also plans to abolish the IRS, institute a flat tax, cut immigration and repeal Common Core and all executive orders.

"The last race we changed the debate, this race, with your help and God's grace we can change this nation," Santorum said.

However, Santorum's run has placed the focus once again on his daughter, Bella, who has a disability that requires constant care. Clark Mindock of International Business Times elaborated on the genetic condition that afflicted Santorum's daughter, Trisomy 18, which left her with an extra chromosome.

"Just fifty percent of fetuses with this condition survive pregnancy," Mindock wrote. "Of those that make it to birth, most die in the first few days, with only 50 percent surviving past one month. Just 10 percent make it to their first birthdays."

Victoria Miller, the mother of a child who died from Trisomy 18, elaborated on the amount of care that Bella could be going through.

"The demands are extreme because we're talking about a child who needs 24-hour nursing care and who has to have medical care around enteral feeding," Miller wrote. "These children can't eat orally, so they require tube feeding and all that goes with that in terms of supplies and nursing."

Mindock cited public records that indicated how much the Santorum family has spent on Bella's care, which ranged in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, Santorum has taken a hard line against Obama's Affordable Care Act, claiming that the law would ration health care.

"Certainly many people who have benefited the most from this are families with development disabilities who could never get insurance before, or who had it so limited they missed key benefits," Sara Rosenbaum, a health care policy professor at George Washington University Law School, said. "It's a boon for any family who has a child with serious health problems."

According to Mindock, Bella's health status back in 2012 forced Santorum to suspend his presidential campaign. He wrote a book about their relationship earlier this year.

"Bella gave me the ability to talk about the dignity of every human life without talking about abortion, because there is a bigger issue," Santorum said.

Alyssa Toomey of E! News reported that Santorum also received the endorsement of the Duggar family back in 2012. However, they have not officially commented on Santorum's second attempt at the presidential nomination.

"[Santorum] is somebody that goes and really just votes from his heart and votes on his convictions, votes on things based on the Constitution of the United States and the Bible," Jim Bob Duggar said back in 2012. "That's the kind of man we want to support."

Santorum also expressed his support for the Duggar family back in 2014 through a Facebook post. He urged others to stand up against "ridiculous attacks from the left" directed at that family.

"They have chosen to raise their children in a faith-filled home, encouraging kindness and generosity, to work hard and to have a fun-loving spirit," Santorum wrote back then. "They are a wonderful family, and Karen and I support them."

However, Toomey reported that the family threw its support behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, another presidential contender, this time around. In addition, Josh Duggar's molestation allegations have become public knowledge.

"Fast-forward just five months later, after the Josh Duggar molestation allegations came to light (Jim Bob and Michelle's eldest son has since responded to the accusations, admitting he 'acted inexcusably' 12 years ago as a young teenager), which have caused many to question whether Santorum has shifted in his opinions surrounding the controversial family," Toomey wrote.

Related: Rick Santorum Says He Is 'Sickened' by Josh Duggar Molestation Allegations, Is 'Praying' for Victims 

Toomey acknowledged that Santorum has not officially commented yet on the latest controversy surrounding the Duggar family. However, Josh sent a picture of himself alongside Santorum on Twitter celebrating the candidate's birthday on May 10.

"Happy birthday to my friend [Rick Santorum]," Josh wrote. "I appreciate your courage standing for truth!"

Even though he would be entering a crowded Republican Party presidential nomination, Santorum remained undaunted with his chances.

"I know what it's like to be an underdog. Four years ago, no one gave us much of a chance, but we won 11 states," he said. "We got four million votes and it's not just because I stood for something, it's because I stood for someone - Americans."


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