THERE'S AN OLD saying in politics, that as Pennsylvania doesn't go, so goes the nation six years later.

OK, actually there's no such saying, but that's the theory behind former Pennsylvanian Rick Santorum's audacious new career move: seeking the 2012 GOP presidential nomination by rallying social conservatives, who tend to be strongest outside the ex-senator's supposed home base.

Santorum went on Fox News Channel - where else? - last night with Greta van Susteren to announce that he's forming a 2012 presidential exploratory committee, which will allow him not only to raise money but also to take part in televised debates starting next month.

He moved toward the race with the obligatory shot at President Obama. He told Van Susteren that Americans in 2008 elected a man they thought they could believe in, but "what they realize is that America needs a president who believes in them."

Still, Santorum didn't sound all in the race unless conservatives show him the money. "Resources is a huge part of it," he said. "We're out there to find out whether it's real or not."

The announcement isn't exactly a shock. In recent months, Virginia resident Santorum has practically made Iowa - the early 2012 caucus state larded with voters from the Religious Right - yet another new home state.

Still, Santorum's candidacy may be a surprise to Pennsylvanians who thought they'd ended his political career by sending him to a landslide defeat in 2006 when he sought a third term against now-Sen. Bob Casey. Most pundits thought Santorum's out-there statements on social issues like homosexuality - which at various times he related to bigamy or "man-on-dog" sex - were what turned off voters in a moderate swing state.

Even Van Susteren grilled Santorum about bizarre comments he made in a recent interview saying Social Security might have a rosier fiscal future if one-third of all U.S. pregnancies weren't aborted. He said that he was answering a question but that "abortion should be outlawed because it is morally wrong" - not for economic reasons.