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As he surges in Iowa, Rick Santorum rips Ron Paul

Five days away from the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum was greeted here by a packed room of supporters and a battery of cameras and reporters, suggesting that his long-shot presidential campaign, once just a wisp on the radar screen, had finally found a spark just when it needed it the most.

It was just a day earlier that a new CNN-Time poll showed Santorum in third place, surging past rivals Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann. The poll seemed to confirm what had been felt here for days—that social conservatives here, a key to success in this state, were finally beginning to rally around a single candidate.

And so Santorum awoke to a changed world. For months, the former Pennsylvania senator had criss-crossed the state with little return on his investment, and had been, for all intents and purposes, an afterthought in the political conversation.

But Gingrich’s decline in the state seems to have given Santorum an opportunity. And Thursday he seemed to be relishing the moment, speaking to the media at length and passionately addressing the overflow crowd at a restaurant here along the Mississippi River.

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“We’ll turn this country around and Iowa will be the spark that did it,” he told the crowd.

While Santorum spent most of his time criticizing President Obama, he took some shots at Ron Paul, a favorite to win next Tuesday’s caucuses. He warned the crowd that Paul’s foreign policy beliefs jeopardized the nation’s security, saying Paul would dismantle the U.S. Navy.

“Congressman Paul would take every ship we have and bring it into port,’ Santorum said. He also suggested that Paul, a Texas Republican, would be ineffective as president. “He’s passed one bill in 20 years,” he said.

And in a sign that Santorum was now being taken more seriously as a threat, he was ripped on the campaign trail by Rick Perry for requesting earmarks as a senator. Perry’s campaign also cut a new radio ad attacking Santorum.

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In his remarks in Muscatine, Santorum resisted the suggestion that he was merely a candidate for evangelicals and other social conservatives, highlighting his national security credentials and emphasizing his role in reforming welfare while in the Senate in the 1990s. “We’ve got a pretty broad message. It’s not just focused in one area,” he said. “We’re excited that we’re resonating beyond the social conservatives.”

But, inevitably, talk returned to matters of faith and family, Santorum’s most comfortable zone. He was asked about his opposition to same-sex marriage. He restated his support for traditional unions and blasted liberals who, he said, “want to drive faith and the conclusions that come from faith out of the public square and out of the public law.”

He invited supporters of gay marriage to “come to the public square, make your case” but to not condemn him for his beliefs. Santorum, of course, has notoriously been victimized by an online effort to connect his name with a gay sexual act.

He said that it’s the “birthright” of every child to have a “mom and a dad.”

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Santorum disputed the argument that he would be a poor candidate in the general election against Obama, arguing that his blue-collar Pennsylvania roots would help him do well in Midwestern swing states. He served in the House and two terms in the Senate before being routed by Democrat Bob Casey in 2006, knocking him from public life.

Afterward, one attendee, Steve Maher of Muscatine, said he was now leaning toward caucusing for Santorum over Bachmann. “The thing that concerns me about Bachmann is not so much her as a candidate but her organization,” he said, referring to the defection of Bachmann’s Iowa campaign manager, Kent Sorenson, to Paul’s camp. And, he said, he had soured on Gingrich, who has been the target of a blitz of negative ads in the state. “I’m suspicious of his backround,” he said. “Some of the ads are starting to get to me.”

“I’m looking for someone where I don’t have to worry about their morality or integrity,” Maher said.

Earlier in the day, Santorum spoke to about 40 people at an event in Coralville, Iowa. He’ll wrap up the campaign day in Davenport.


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