POLITICS
12/14/2012 06:24 pm ET | Updated Feb 13, 2013

Rick Santorum Endorses Ken Cuccinelli's Gubernatorial Bid

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who mounted a strong primary challenge to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney by riding a wave of Tea Party enthusiasm, is endorsing Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for governor.

"I have known Ken for years and consider him not only a strong leader for conservative principles but a dear friend who I have been proud to stand side-by-side with in the fights crucial to the future of our nation," Santorum said in a statement released by his political action committee, Patriot Voices.

"Ken's conservative leadership will serve the commonwealth of Virginia well and will be an example for state executives across this country," Santorum said. "From before the revolution itself, the governorship of Virginia has been held by some of the greatest defenders of America's foundational principles, and I am excited to support Ken's candidacy to help him continue this tradition as Virginia's next governor," Santorum said.

Santorum refers to Cuccinelli upholding "traditional values," but made no reference to the staunch anti-abortion position he shares with the attorney general. The issue roiled the Virginia General Assembly last year in proposed GOP legislation to restrict access to abortion and potentially criminalize the practice, and will surely be raised by Democrats in the 2013 election.

Santorum's endorsement is no surprise given his political parity with Cuccinelli. But it offers appeals to the most conservative base of the state GOP, which could play a large role in an off-year election where turnout is traditionally low among moderates and independents.

It also signals the beginning of what is likely to be a star-studded 2013 election season in Virginia, with major figures from both parties expected to campaign here and lay the foundationS for possible runs for the presidency in 2016. Virginia and New Jersey are the only states that elect a governor in the year following a presidential election.

Democrats, in a statement, criticized Cuccinelli and Santorum.

"Rick Santorum doesn't endorse candidates because he agrees with their jobs plan. He endorses candidates who share his divisive ideological preoccupation with attacking women's health care rights and putting his own personal political agenda ahead of what's best for the state he serves," said Democratic Party of Virginia chairwoman Charniele Herring.

"It may not be surprising that Rick Santorum wants Ken Cuccinelli to be our next governor, but it is disappointing that instead of focusing on jobs and the economy, Cuccinelli continues to run on issues that have nothing to do with making life better for Virginia families." ___

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