Hundreds of people packed a recreation center on Friday night in The Villages to get up close and personal with a man who’s thinking about running for president in 2016. 

They waited in line before the doors opened at the Savannah Center to get a chance to hear from Republican Rick Santorum, who told News 13 he thinks the biggest difference between now and when he ran for president in 2012 is that there's no clear favorite.

"I think the biggest difference is there’s no favorite in the race," Santorum, the former senator, said Friday in an exclusive one-on-one interview with News 13. "It's sort of a wide-open race right now and so those of us who are looking at jumping in, it's not quite as big of a mountain to climb."

Santorum represented Pennsylvania until he was defeated in a self-admitted landslide in 2006. He said he learned an important lesson from his presidential primary loss in 2012.

"The most important thing I learned is the system still works," he said. "I was outspent ... and came within that much of capturing the Republican nomination."

The Villages Conservative Action Group invited Santorum to promoting his new book about life lessons he's learned from his daughter, Bella, who has survived being born with a rare genetic disorder. 

"I don't think you run for president unless you believe you can do something that can help move this country in a positive direction," Santorum said.

 Santorum also laid out his presidential vision for News 13.

"On the national security front, (the country) needs someone who understands the problem," he said. "Someone who has a long track record — you're going to be going up probably against the Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton), someone who has a track record of understanding and getting it right and has a very clear vision of how you're going to defeat radical Islam, how you're going to deal with Iran and a partnership with Israel."

Santorum told the crowd he's willing to stand up for his views and voters' views — regardless of the outcome.

"Losing is not the worst thing that's going to happen to you," he said Friday night. "Standing up for what you believe in and fighting for what you think is best for the country in good times and bad is the right thing to do."

Santorum will remain in Central Florida when he heads to a gathering of religious conservatives at 10 a.m. Saturday at The Awakening Conference at Faith Assembly. Santorum will be joined by Mike Huckabee, another former presidential contender.