SOUTHLAKE — Still waiting his turn in the Republican frontrunner dunking booth, former Sen. Rick Santorum brought the campaign to Texas on Saturday.
On a weekend when he both caused a stir and showed new strength at a Christian conservatives' rally in Washington, the Virginia Republican detoured from Iowa and New Hampshire to keep a promised appearance for an Arlington ministry and to meet Tea Party members curious about choices besides Gov. Rick Perry.
Santorum barely mentioned Perry in two hour-long visits to Tea Party groups in Keller and Southlake. He did single out conservative rival Herman Cain, calling the Georgia business executive's "9-9-9" tax plan "very dangerous."
While Santorum was panning for campaign dollars along Farm Road 1709, attendees at a Values Voter Summit in Washington gave him one of his strongest straw poll showings yet. Of the nearly 2,000 attendees, 732 favored Rep. Ron Paul of Lake Jackson, but Santorum's 323 (16 percent) ranked him third after Cain. Perry claimed 167 votes.
In an interview in Southlake, Santorum explained a comment he made Friday in Washington about how Republicans should judge a candidate by his or her spouse.
Santorum said voters should study candidates and "look at who they lay down with at night."
He wasn't talking about Anita or Rick Perry, he said.
Try another Texas couple: Barbara and President George H.W. Bush.
"His clarity on social issues was not as strong," Santorum said.
"A candidate might say they're conservative. But do they still get the support when they get back home? That's going to have an effect."
The comment also subtly raises doubt about front-runner Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, who has spoken consistently against abortion but gave $150 to Planned Parenthood in 1994.
Santorum openly stung Romney over a Friday foreign-policy speech. The former Massachusetts governor said the U.S. should "work with" the United Nations and try to refocus on its "proper role" of defending human rights.
"We don't need to do that," Santorum said. "We need to abolish the U.N."
He criticized Cain's proposal for reduced income and corporate taxes and a new 9 percent national sales tax as a "bad idea" because "it gives the government just another way to take money."
Santorum said he came for a Saturday speech to the Friends of the Arlington Pregnancy Center that was booked before he was running for president.
But the trip also gave him a chance to meet Tea Party activists. Some had hoped for a Sarah Palin candidacy.
Rockwall County Republican Chairman Tony Fisk, tagging along on the tour, said Santorum "absolutely" can rally Palin supporters: "He certainly has the same message."
He is finding friends in Texas.