PHOENIX, Ariz. (CBS) - Rick Santorum on Tuesday stood by comments he made in 2008 about Satan attacking the United States, telling reporters here that he is going to "stay on message" and continue to talk about jobs, security and "taking on forces around this world who want to do harm to America."
The three-year-old speech is getting renewed scrutiny after several Web-based publications circulated audio and text of his remarks over the holiday weekend. Speaking to a group at Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla., Santorum said, "This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war at all. This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies, Satan, would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country: the United States of America."
When reporters asked about the comments at a rally Tuesday evening, Santorum said, "I believe in good and evil. I think if somehow or another, because you're a person of faith, you believe in good and evil (and it's) a disqualifier for president, we're going to have a very small pool of candidates who can run for president."
Asked whether he still thinks Satan is attacking the United States, Santorum called the inquiry "not relevant to what's being discussed in America today."
"If they want to dig up old speeches of me talking to religious groups, they can go ahead and do so, but I'm going to stay on message and I'm going to talk about things that Americans want to talk about," Santorum said, "which is creating jobs, making our country more secure, and yeah, taking on the forces around his world who want to do harm to America, and you bet I will take them on."
Earlier, he pledged to "defend everything I say" after noting that people might worry about his statements because he isn't "robotic" like some of the more "commoditized candidates."
As he campaigned in Arizona today, Santorum looked toward the general election and promised that with his background as "a guy who came from the steel town of western Pennsylvania," he could win swing states by focusing on manufacturing. Indeed, his remarks Tuesday evening were void of the extensive discussion of social issues that are typical of his stump speech; he focused on economic and foreign policy concerns.
"We will need a candidate who has this type of profile. Someone who can run a successful campaign with less money, with better ideas, with sharper contrasts, with good grassroots energy and excitement and organization, who can win key constituencies in swing states - let's say manufacturing states -- and who can go out and make Barack Obama the issue in this race," he said.
He also said Republicans should try to create a vision for voters that contrasts with what he called an inappropriate expansion of federal entitlement programs by the Obama administration. And, he said, it would be unafraid to tackle thorny issues like the financial crisis in Social Security.
"As Republicans, we have to go out and talk about opportunity. We're not the party of security. We're not the part of equal results. We're not the party of, 'We're going to take care of you.' We're the party that says, 'We believe in you.' We believe in creating an opportunity for you to be able to rise," he said, "And when we say that, we have to mean it."
He cited his own proposal to overhaul Social Security, which is often called the "third rail of American politics" because it is dangerous for politicians to touch it. "I'm riding the rail on a skateboard, ladies and gentlemen," he joked.
Rebecca Kaplan, CBS NEWS