Politics

01.04.12

Rick Santorum Basks in Post-Iowa Glow in New Hampshire

Mitt Romney may be up by 40 points in New Hampshire, but crowds of media and voters are mobbing Rick Santorum after his stunning Iowa finish. Lois Romano reports from Brentwood.

What a difference a day makes.

A crush of voters and media packed a senior center tiny Brentwood, New Hampshire, on Wednesday night to check out Rick Santorum, his first trip back to the state after his unexpectedly strong finish in the Iowa caucuses this week.

It was a far cry from his events here last summer, when his hosts had a trouble rounding up folks, and the candidate was loving his newfound attention.

Santorum hopes to capitalize on his new momentum to position himself as Mitt Romney’s main challenger here. The former Pennsylvania senator, who has been trailing in the polls all year, finished just eight votes behind Romney in Tuesday’s caucuses.

“We’re going to go on to show we have what it takes … we have the momentum and we have what it takes for people of New Hampshire to rally behind us,” Santorum told the crowd.

Recent polls have Romney with a commanding lead of more than 40 percent in New Hampshire. As the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, he is treated as something of a favorite son here. While some of Santorum’s rivals have dropped out or headed for the next primary in South Carolina, Santorum has promised to compete in New Hampshire—a state that is more liberal than the socially conservative former senator on issues such as abortions and gay marriage.

“People have been asking me—New Hampshire is such a different place. I say all Americans are the same ... have the same values our founders put in place,” he said, to enthusiastic applause. “People forget that this is my 31st trip here.”

But despite his surge, Santorum faces an uphill battle going forward. He has small staffs in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida—seven paid staffers in the Granite State, while Romney and Ron Paul have intricate organizations in place.

“Don’t buy the media line that you have to be a moderate to win a general election,” he exhorted.

Santorum did say his campaign pulled in $1 million in online donations in the past 24 hours—but while it’s a start, it may not be nearly enough to make a difference in the larger states with pricey media markets.

At least starting out, he may not need money for paid ads. On Wednesday night, at lest 75 members of the press turned out to chronicle his every word, with eight satellite trucks hovering outside.

Mary Genter, a resident of this town of 4,000, came out in subfreezing weather to check him out. “He seems to say what he means and mean what he says,” she said, adding that she was leaning toward Santorum before Iowa.

“He is a true conservative and doesn’t changes his positions,” said Steve Dennis, an electrician.

“And he’s a Christian and he’s not afraid to say it,” piped in Dennis’s wife, Laurie.

Wearing a red shirt and blue vest, Santorum took questions for 90 minutes, talking nonstop. He saved his criticism for President Obama and railed against big government. He accused the administration of creating cumbersome regulations that hurt energy development and businesses—and of trying to make the American people dependent on the federal government through entitlements. It was a topic that his audience appreciated.

“The principal reason I am in this race is because of Obamacare,” he said, to cheers. “I think Obamacare will turn every American into a dependent American.”

He vowed to repeal unnecessary regulations and open up oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, long a contentious topic. “They think they know better than you,” he said, referring to the Obama administration. “They don’t trust you.”

Santorum said he was a “big believer” in the Second Amendment and allowed that his wife owns more guns that he does.

The candidate has jam-packed days and at least 10 town-hall gatherings before Tuesday’s primary.

“Don’t buy the media line that you have to be a moderate to win a general election,” he exhorted.