STEUBENVILLE - Local businessman Mark Nelson found his candidate Monday morning during a 70-minute Rick Santorum presidential campaign rally at Froehlich's Classic Corner restaurant.
His wife Gretchen Nelson was still undecided after the event that saw approximately 500 people fill the restaurant banquet room, while other supporters stood in a nearby parking lot to listen to the Republican contender's speech.
"I thought Senator Santorum was very positive in his speech. He is for freedom and the growth of business. He has good ideas on how we can keep the cost of domestic energy down and he is calling for responsible stewardship of our energy program. I am supporting him because I believe he is the answer for America," said Mark Nelson.
RALLY — Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum speaks during Monday’s rally at Froehlich’s Classic Corner in Steubenville. -- Linda Harris
"I'm still not sure but he said two things I really liked. His comments about freedom isn't something you can do. Freedom is what you ought to do. I also liked his comments about building strong families again in America," said Gretchen Nelson.
Shirley Schalk of Steubenville described Santorum, "as a David against Goliath. And this lion is going to roar. This is a great day for Steubenville."
Santorum almost immediately acknowledged the strong Franciscan University of Steubenville presence at the campaign rally.
"Its great to be here. Thank you Steubenville Franciscan. We love you. It's good to be back here. You have a gem in the university here in the Ohio Valley. You are a beacon of light for the country and the Catholic church," Santorum told the audience.
He also recognized Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who announced Friday he was switching his support from Republican candidate Mitt Romney to Santorum.
"I believe he has the best chance of beating Barack Obama. I have known Rick and Karen for about 20 years and what you see is what you get. Rick Santorum has core values that don't change. He is a conservative who is pro-life, pro-gun and pro-family. Rick can win in Ohio because the average Republicans like what they see in Santorum," DeWine said prior to the rally.
"And Rick Santorum is ready to stop the deficit spending in the federal government," added DeWine.
Santorum told the standing-room-only crowd he will need five years to erase the federal deficit.
"It wasn't created in one year and we can't erase it in one year. But we can reduce the deficit over a five-year period," said Santorum.
Santorum also found common ground with the rally supporters when he said the presidential race "is about freedom. Freedom to believe in what you want to believe in. The president and his cabinet talk about freedom of worship, not freedom of religion."
Santorum was accompanied by his wife and three of his seven children during his approximately one-hour stop in the city. Later he attended noon Mass at the Christ the King Chapel on the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
He also referred to the recent Obama Administration decision to require all employers to offer insurance that includes birth control as "forcing the Catholic Church to do something against its religious convictions."
"I give credit to the Catholic bishops and other religious leaders who now say everyone are Catholics in this fight. Let's see who wins this fight," Santorum said to a standing ovation.
"This race is about freedom. Economic freedom and the freedom to believe in what you want to believe in. The president wants to talk about freedom of worship not the freedom of religion," stated Santorum.
"This is the most important election of your life. Ohio can have a huge say in this election. There are people who are trying to change this country. My grandfather didn't come to this country to get benefits except one and that was freedom," said Santorum.
The former Pennsylvania senator repeated comments he made Sunday in Georgia claiming Obama views mankind "as just one species on Earth and he wants to elevate the Earth above man."
"This area is rich in energy and tradition. But the radical environmentalists refer to an ideology where they elevate the Earth. Man has the responsibility of stewardship of the Earth. The radical environmentalists say we shouldn't touch anything because the Earth will take care of its own," said Santorum.
"At one time some people came to Pittsburgh and saw the sky was black. They said to abandon the city. But the community came together and passed clean air regulations. We must be good stewards of the environment but let's use our intellect to manage. We need an energy policy that will develop our resources," Santorum said.
He also said Obama and his allies want to frighten people about new oil-exploration technologies so they can get your dollars and turn it over to politicians to win elections "so they can control your lives."
"We need someone who comes from the coal fields or the steel mills who understands what it means to work to provide for their family," continued Santorum.
While Santorum did not mention his Republican opponents by name he did talk about politicians "who want to cut the size of government, cut taxes and then go off to the Hamptons for the summer.
They should spend the summer as volunteers on the lower east side of New York helping others."
The speech resonated with Kimberly Hahn, president of the Jefferson County Federated Republican Women, who brought her son to the rally.
"I thought it was an outstanding speech from someone who understands the roots of our area and who is faithful to those who went before us.
"This is a momentous election. He inspired everyone in the room, especially the high school and college age students. What comes through so clearly is Rick Santorum has a principled approach to our nation's complex problems," explained Hahn.
And Tom Crowe of Steubenville said he also is supporting Santorum.
"I was supporting Gov. Rick Perry but Santorum is who I am with now. He is the true conservative candidate," noted Crowe.