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Dark horse conservative Santorum rides Iowa surge

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 29, 2011 14:46 EDT
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Rick Santorum on the campaign trail.
 
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Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, surging in Iowa thanks to the state’s social conservatives, declared Thursday that the party must not compromise its core beliefs to win back the White House.

“We don’t need someone who can just be a little better” than embattled Democratic President Barack Obama, the long-shot candidate urged two dozen people at a morning event in this town’s city hall. “Do not settle.”

But Santorum noted that the sour economy and stubbornly high unemployment dominate the national political landscape ahead of the November 2012 elections, and that the party must win over working-class voters who might side with Obama.

“Bread and butter is bread and butter, and we’d better have a message that attracts all across the board,” said the former US senator, whose home state of Pennsylvania is expected to be a critical battleground state.

Some Republican strategists say that deep anger at Obama will rally their core members next November and that the eventual nominee should soften the party’s social conservative message to win over critical swing-voters.

Five days before this heartland state’s January 3 caucus formally launches the process to nominate a Republican challenger to Obama, Santorum touted himself as “the conservative alternative” to the more moderate Mitt Romney and labeled himself a political bomb-thrower “when bombs need to be thrown.”

A recent poll found Santorum running in third place in Iowa, behind veteran Representative Ron Paul and Romney, a former Massachusetts governor whose campaign warchest and high-power endorsements have many describing him as the one to beat.

But the Iowa caucus is a poor predictor of eventual nominees, and just four percent of respondents in the CNN/Time/ORC survey said they thought Santorum could beat Obama — the party’s ultimate goal — against 41 pecent for Romney.

“I like Santorum, I like him a lot. I feel he’s honest and straightforward,” Heidi Eliason, 30, told AFP at a Romney rally on Wednesday. “But we really need to be beating Obama.”

Still, with not quite half of Iowans telling pollsters that their minds are not made up, and Romney struggling to push his support above roughly 25 percent here and nationwide, the race could still swing in unexpected ways.

“We’ll surprise a lot of people,” Santorum, who needs a strong showing in Iowa to stay in contention through New Hampshire’s January 10 primary and beyond, said as he sipped a decaffeinated “Cold War Latte” from an area coffee shop.

“Iowa provides the spark. There’s plenty of tinder on the ground that will start burning in these other states,” said the 53-year-old former lawmaker, who has built his support here in part thanks to relentless campaigning that has taken him to all of Iowa’s 99 counties, some several times.

Karen Fesler, a Santorum campaigner who runs a small business selling public safety equipment, said the candidate “seems to mesh the social and the economic messages and that seems to resonate with a lot of people.”

“That ‘anti-Romney’ group of voters is finally figuring out that we have to pick one candidate, a conservative candidate,” she said.

Santorum, Paul, Romney and other candidates were criss-crossing Iowa in a frantic pre-caucus flurry of campaigning, shaking hands, taking questions from voters and waging an all-out war of television ads and telephone outreach.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich edged Romney for the national lead but was slipping, according to an average of public opinion polls by the RealClearPolitics.com website that tracks the campaign.

One of Santorum’s rivals, Representative Michele Bachmann, suffered a blow as her Iowa campaign manager left her for Paul, who has built a head of steam on his libertarian views and sharp opposition to foreign aid and overseas military intervention.

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
 
 
 
 
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