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Rick Santorum launches 2016 bid with blue-collar pitch

Last Updated May 28, 2015 8:43 AM EDT

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum launched his bid for the Republican presidential nomination on Wednesday with a conservative, blue-collar message. Promising to protect American workers, he blamed factors like "big government" and immigration for flat wages.

"From day one, we will work to bring back America and put Americans back to work," Santorum said to a crowd at Penn United Technologies, a manufacturing company in Cabot, Pennsylvania. "Over the last 20 years, we've brought into this country, legally and illegally, 35 million mostly unskilled workers. As a result, over that same period of time, workers' wages and family incomes have flatlined."

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, with wife Karen, daughter Bella, 7, and the rest of the family, announces his candidacy for the 2016 Republican nomination for president at Penn United Technologies May 27, 2015, in Cabot, Pennsylvania.
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Santorum said that "big business" and Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, would like to see a "massive influx" of unskilled workers. Clinton, he said, wants to see an increase in unskilled workers because she "wants votes." By contrast, Santorum said, "My priority is you, the American worker."

Santorum, who has built a reputation over the decades as a staunch social conservative, appeared on stage with his wife and seven of his eight children. He touted his past accomplishments in the Senate and noted that he was elected twice to the Senate in a blue state (while failing to mention his 17-point loss to Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in 2006). Santorum also highlighted his 2012 presidential campaign, referring to himself as an "underdog" for winning 11 states in the Republican primary.

"We got four million votes not because I stood for something, but someone -- the American worker," he said.

The former senator called for a flat tax rate, promised to revitalize domestic manufacturing and proposed shrinking the size of the federal government.

CBS News' Alex Romano contributed to this report.