Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum (Credit: AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Washington (CNN) - Two months after he suspended his presidential campaign, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum on Friday laid out his future plans as he looks for ways to make sure his voice is heard and his influence is felt as a leader of the conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Santorum announced he was forming Patriot Voices, a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization he said would promote some of his key issues, including a commitment to family.
"One of the things that we found as we traveled around the country is that people came up to me a lot and said I was out there speaking about things that gave voice to their concerns and a lot of issues," Santorum said in an interview on Fox News. "People are concerned obviously about the economy, about national security. But I think a lot of people have a basic anxiety with where America is going, and I try to talk about those."
Santorum said issues like manufacturing and religious liberty were important to many Americans, but were being ignored by members of both parties.
"We wanted to put together an organization that reflected those voices across America," Santorum said, adding that Patriot Voices would help a number of candidates running for office, including presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
On Thursday, sources close to Santorum said he was setting up the organization to provide himself a vehicle to push issues important to him and a platform to stay engaged.
"He needs to set up those political foundations going forward, to take his message forward and to build the support base he will need in the future," said Brent Bozell, a conservative activist and chairman of the organization ForAmerica.
In addition to discussing his latest move in media appearances Friday, Santorum is scheduled to speak before what will likely be a very friendly audience of conservatives at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Chicago.
Santorum, whom activists call a standard-bearer for the conservative wing of the party, has been looking for ways to promote the causes and principles he pushed during the campaign, such as repealing the Obama administration's health care reform initiative, building the nation's manufacturing sector and trumpeting ways to strengthen the family.
As a staunch opponent of abortion and proponent of traditional marriage, he is widely perceived to be a major voice for those causes in the GOP.
"It was pretty obvious social conservatism had a champion in the presidential race, and that was Rick Santorum," Hogan Gidley, the Santorum campaign communications director, told CNN. "It is pretty clear there is an appetite" for that in the party, he added.
Several conservative leaders who have talked to Santorum told CNN that he wants to be active politically and to make sure he stays engaged.
In an e-mail to supporters last month, Santorum previewed his next chapter. "I am extremely excited that I will soon be sharing with you exactly how we can play a major role in defeating Obama, elect trusted conservatives all across the country, and hold candidates accountable to the promises they make to us at election time. And believe me, I am going to need you to play a critical role."
Santorum will also have available the resources of the Red, White and Blue Fund - the super PAC that backed his presidential bid. It has since turned into a leadership group that can help support Santorum's political travel, donate to political candidates he backs and give him a platform. It had just under $324,000 in the bank as of April 30.
He will have to use the donor lists gathered from his presidential bid to raise funds and finance his efforts. His campaign still had debt totaling more than $2 million at the end of April, and he has sent out e-mails to supporters urging them to help him erase it.
Santorum won a lot of praise from the conservative wing of the party for being the last major opponent against Romney in the primary.
"More than any other conservative who ran for president this year he has a following because he was the last person standing," long-time conservative leader Richard Viguerie, a friend of Santorum's, told CNN. "He has a big following now and can build that larger."
Before he pulled out, the Romney and Santorum campaigns and the candidates themselves exchanged harsh words. It's not clear, however, just how much the wounds have healed.
Santorum met with Romney a month after pulling out and endorsed him on May 7 in a late-night email, which some analysts described as tepid because the actual announcement fell in the 13th paragraph.
Santorum defended the way he announced the endorsement in an interview on NBC's "Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
"It was a rough-and-tumble campaign," he said on the show. "I can't say it would have been an easy thing the next day to turn around and say, 'Let's just go forward.' It was tough and so I wanted an opportunity to, sort of, think about it a little bit and (allow) family think about it."
Santorum has yet to appear with Romney on the campaign trail, though representatives for Santorum and Romney have held some discussions about Santorum hitting the road for the presumptive GOP nominee, one source with knowledge of the matter told CNN.
"I do think Santorum has a role to play on the campaign trail and that role is to bridge the differences between team Romney and social conservatives," said Ford O'Connell, who worked on the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008.
He stressed Santorum would boost the Republican ticket by campaigning in Iowa and in areas with a large concentration of blue collar workers, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"It does behoove Santorum to go out on the campaign trail because he is trying to run in either 2016 or run for another office down the road," O'Connell said.
Santorum has recently waded into the political waters with some endorsements of conservatives running in recent Senate primaries: former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz, Indiana treasurer Richard Mourdock and Nebraska attorney general Jon Bruning.
Later Friday, Santorum will appear at fundraisers for Cruz and the Texas Republican Party.
Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, said one area where Santorum can have influence will be to help build support for House and Senate candidates because he connects with conservative supporters.
"He can use that and build upon that to help support conservative candidates," Perkins told CNN. "He has a very important role to play."
Besides mapping out his next political steps, he also has had to figure out how to support his family financially. He is expected to be a major draw on the speaking circuit.