Rick Santorum files a 2012 ‘testing the waters’ committee

Holly Bailey

After months of speculation, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum announced Wednesday that he's set up a fund-raising committee to run for president.

The conservative former lawmaker filed papers with the Internal Revenue Service for what he described as a "presidential testing the waters effort." It's a move that will allow him to solicit and spend funds for a White House bid, but doesn't quite qualify him as an actual candidate, since he didn't officially file with the Federal Election Commission.

"The test for me is whether we can raise the money that's necessary," Santorum said in an interview with Fox News's Greta Van Susteren, "We're going to determine over the next few weeks as to whether the resources are going to be there to do it. So if you want to encourage me to do this and take the final step to be a candidate, then we'll see if we can raise the money to do that.

It's unclear if Santorum's move will legally qualify him to participate in Fox News's upcoming 2012 GOP primary debate in South Carolina. Earlier this week, the channel announced candidates would be required to have legally filed papers for an exploratory committee or a full-fledged campaign to participate in the May 5 debate.

Santorum, who was the No. 3 Republican in the Senate before he lost his bid for re-election in 2006, has been touring early primary states for months ahead of his expected White House run. He's sought to position himself as a conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, whom he endorsed in 2008 but now trashes at virtually every opportunity.

Yet Santorum, despite his frequent visits to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, is barely a blip in most early 2012 polls.

In an email sent to reporters Wednesday night, Santorum debuted a new slogan--"It's time for America to be America again"--and said he felt compelled to run because the nation has lost its way under President Obama.

"In 2008, Americans wanted a president who they could believe in," Santorum wrote. "But after two years, they realized what they needed is a president who believes in them."

In recent months, the ultra-conservative ex-lawmaker has made headlines with a series of controversial comments, including his suggestion that Obama should be opposed to abortion because he's black. More recently, Santorum told a New Hampshire radio station that "abortion culture" is to blame for the nation's Social Security woes.

Van Susteren asked Santorum about the comments, which she deemed "weird," on Wednesday. The former senator stood behind his comment, insisting it was a simple "demographic problem"--the Baby Boom generation is retiring and there aren't enough workers to support them.

"If demographics were like this, Social Security would work a lot better. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would work a lot better," Santorum insisted.

But, he added, he wasn't making the argument that abortion should be outlawed because of "economics or demographics." "It should be outlawed because it's morally wrong," he said.

(Photo of Santorum: Charlie Neibergall/AP)