MASON CITY, Iowa — One of the problems in America today is marriage has become “one of the alternative lifestyles,” former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said Tuesday.

Speaking to an appreciative crowd of more than 100 at the Historic Park Inn Hotel, the Republican presidential candidate said, “We need to have a national discussion on marriage and family.

“There are two things in this country that will assure you of never being poor — graduating from high school and getting married.

“So marriage is important for our economic security. It isn’t an alternative lifestyle. The bottom line is: Marriage works.”

Santorum spoke and answered questions for about two hours.

He said he knows he’s behind in the polls but told his audience, “Trust your own judgment. Don’t defer to people who don’t know as much about it as you do. Don’t defer — lead.

“Iowans are digging in. You want to peak at the right time. I always felt that when that time came, we’d do very well.”

Santorum said this year’s election is similar to the one in 1980 when Ronald Reagan, the champion of conservatives, made Jimmy Carter a one-term president.

“We were in difficult economic times, America’s esteem was low around the world, and Reagan was vilified by the left,” he said. “This race, like the one in 1980, is a foundational race. It is about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as our founding fathers envisioned them.”

He mentioned his Republican opponents only in passing but zeroed in on President Barack Obama.

He said Obama’s idea of good government is the country being run from the top echelons on down.

“Obamacare was the tipping point for me,” Santorum said. “If Obamacare isn’t repealed, we will be dependent on the federal government, and when that happens, it’s game, set, match. That’s what this election is all about.”

Santorum gave his insights on a number of other issues. Among them:

Immigration: “Secure the border and enforce the law. Gingrich says if an immigrant has been here for 20 years, you can’t separate them from their families. I say: Why not? They broke the law.”

Education: “We have an education system based on one thing — the education system. The parents are responsible for educating their children, not the government.

“We remove God, we remove patriotism, we focus on academics, we take away the richness of the American culture — and then we wonder why our kids don’t behave.

“Colleges and universities have become indoctrination centers for the left. A high percentage of kids who go to college with Christian beliefs leave college without them.”

Trade deficit: “The biggest trade deficit is with oil, and the president doesn’t want the pipeline from North Dakota. We have to have policies that allow us to compete.”

Economy: “I would repeal all Obama regulations on businesses and get rid of all subsidies and let the marketplace work.”

Iran: “Use every means possible to make sure Iran does not have a nuclear weapon.”

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