GOP presidential hopefuls courting support at Philadelphia conference

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At least a dozen Republicans are officially running for president, with many more openly considering making a bid for the White House. Some of them are in Philadelphia attending a three-day conference and making their pitches to GOP leaders in the region.

The stakes are high. Only candidates polling in the top-10 will be part of the first televised Republican debate, so they’re working hard to stand out from the crowd.

On Friday morning, former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum told the Northeast Republican Leaders Conference the party must focus on appealing to blue-collar workers who sat out the last presidential race. 

They need a nominee who understands “the importance of workers working with their hands and their heads and [does] not talk down as I think a lot of our politicians do today to the tradesmen and to the machinists and to the folks who make things,” Santorum said.

As NewsWorks’ Dave Davies reported, Santorum struck a different tone than the evangelical Christian has in the past. 

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina spoke more generally about a need to free Americans from what she called “webs of dependence” on government. 

“The highest calling of leadership is to unlock potential in others, and now we need a leader who understands how to unlock the potential of this great nation,” she said.

Fiorina billed herself as an expert on foreign policy. Claiming she has met privately with world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, she said she counts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (whom she referred to by his nickname “Bibi”) among her “good friends.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie touted his leadership as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, which last fall brought him on a cross-country tour stumping for candidates and testing the waters for his own presidential bid. He is expected to announce a run for the White House before the end of the month.

Christie also pitched himself as a leader on foreign policy and national security, noting his time as U.S. attorney for New Jersey after 9/11.

And he took a few shots at presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Rand Paul who successfully led the charge to let the Patriot Act expire.

“I’ve fought terrorism, I’ve put terrorists in jail and what Sen. Paul has done to this country has made us weaker and more vulnerable. And then he has the gall to cut his speeches from the Senate floor and put it on his website and raise political money off of it,” he said. “It’s disgraceful.”

The governor also discussed his proposals to raise the retirement age and cut Social Security benefits for those earning more than $200,000 a year.

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