POLITICS
05/03/2011 05:24 pm ET Updated Jul 03, 2011

Rick Santorum Establishes Presidential Exploratory Committee Ahead Of 2012

WASHINGTON -- Former Sen. Rick Santorum is taking the next step toward a presidential bid.

Santorum on Tuesday said he had established a presidential exploratory committee and would participate in Thursday's debate in South Carolina, an early presidential nominating state. The Pennsylvania Republican previously had filed a preliminary committee with the Federal Election Commission.

"I am pleased that we have taken this important next step in the process to potentially become a candidate for President of the United States," he said in an email to supporters. Announcing that he will participate in a debate being hosted by the South Carolina Republican Party later this week he added, "The debate this Thursday is a unique opportunity to put forth ideas and solutions to bring our economy back on track, and with Osama bin Laden's death, I look forward to also discussing in depth ways to tackle our many national security challenges."

Establishing the presidential exploratory committee allows Santorum to raise and spend money but requires him to disclose his donors.

Santorum, who lost a bruising re-election bid in 2006, has been busy visiting the traditional early nominating states and hiring staff. He has laid the groundwork for a presidential bid but says he isn't yet declaring a White House run.