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A closer look at Rick Santorum's economic platform

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum addresses an election night party in Steubenville, Ohio, March 6, 2012. Santorum has been vague so far on a number of economic issues.

Jeremy Hobson: Republican voters in Mississippi and Alabama will have their say today on the party's nominee and who that should be. Polls show a close race. We are going to continue our ongoing series on the economic views of the candidates now with someone who's been following Rick Santorum's career in Pennsylvania for a long time.

Terry Madonna is director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. He's with us now from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Good morning.

Terry Madonna: Hey, thanks for having me.

Hobson: If you listen to Sen. Santorum's speech on Super Tuesday, there was a lot of what can only be described as economic populism -- sticking up for the little guy. What is his record on that when it comes to his time serving the state of Pennsylvania?

Madonna: Well, I mean I think he has been described sometimes as a big government conservative. He represented a very large, heterogeneous state -- steel, coal, oil. He fought for the economic interests of the state; he was against the NAFTA -- in other words, against free trade; he supported a ban on steel imports. But he voted for lots of big budgets and for government spending. So you know, the big point here is that it usually was at the behest of, and in context, with the business community.

Hobson: If you look at Santorum's plans, it's clear that he wants to cut taxes and increase tax deductions. But on spending cuts, he is very vague, and I'm wondering: Is this a guy who is just being coy about the spending cuts he wants, or is he just OK with having big deficits?

Madonna: He does talk about reducing the deficit, but you're right, there's not a lot of specifics about how that would occur. You know, he does support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, which would cap government spending at 18 percent of GDP growth. So yeah, he's vague on the specifics --

Hobson: But was he a big cutter when he was in the Senate?

Madonna: No, no, absolutely not. He voted for increases in government expenditures when he approved federal budgets, of course.

Hobson: Let me finally ask you about Santorum's own economic background. Tell us something that we don't know about him.

Madonna: Well maybe this, that he really talks about being sort of a blue collar, working class guy, but in reality, he grew up white collar. His dad worked for the Veterans' Administration, he was a psychologist; his mom was a nurse who worked for the V.A. I don't see working class roots. He talks about his grandfather in Somerset County in southwestern Pa. -- minor, but in reality, he grew up with his parents working for the federal government.

Hobson: Terry Madonna is director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. Terry Madonna, thanks so much.

Madonna: Hey, thanks as always.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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