Even though Sen. Rick Santorum was 45 minutes late to his rally at Belmont University's Curb Event Center after a long day on the campaign trail, the state's Republican primary frontrunner delivered a nearly hour-long speech to a group of more than 600 people.
Santorum touched on a variety of topics including health care, energy and the national debt. But he kept coming back to a main principle: the power and size of government.
"We're in a time right now where that flame is flickering because people are doubting whether it’s best now for us to be free or whether it’s better to be ruled," Santorum said.
"We were a country that, like any other country, was built from the bottom up. Built with communities relying on each other. Government was inconsequential. That's how America transformed the world."
The former Pennsylvania senator said that a perceived "income inequality" created by his proposed plan of less government is a "not a bad thing."
"Look here in Nashville. Why? Because there are amazing talents in this town that soar … and they are richly rewarded," Santorum said. "There are those who work just as hard, but they don't succeed for one reason or another … . You know what? That's OK. That's the way it works, as long as both have the freedom to pursue those dreams."
Unlike fellow candidate Newt Gingrich, who held a public rally at the State Capitol on Monday, Santorum acknowledged his opponents in the tight race.
"If you look at this race, it comes down to that fundamental issue. … I've been someone who's been out there on the edge looking at how we can empower you," Santorum said. "I provided contrasts of someone who doesn't believe in government control, but believes in freedom."
Santorum's speech also had its share of detractors. People with signs supporting Ron Paul and Gov. Mitt Romney showed up. A staffer with Santorum's campaign, accompanied by Metro police officers and Belmont event staff, warned protesters about holding up their signs.
Santorum didn't address the controversial comments he made regarding higher education, calling President Barack Obama a "snob" for saying that every American should pursue college education.
He did, however, encourage students to cast their votes on Super Tuesday, March 6, and Election Day.
"As young people with your futures ahead of you … the education and opportunities. Why would you settle for an America that doesn't believe in you?" Santorum said.
"If Barack Obama is re-elected, this country will foundationally change and once freedom is lost, never in the history of the world has it been regained."
Santorum attended a fundraiser hosted by Lee Beaman and visited Knoxville earlier in the day. Tomorrow, he has campaign stops in Washington state.