Santorum dings Perry while playing for Iowa conservative voters

SIOUX  CITY, Iowa — Call it either a sign of new confidence or of fierce competitiveness, but Rick Santorum mocked Rick Perry's infamous "oops" debate flub here Saturday afternoon — and gave would be caucus-goers an insight into what goes on unseen on the debate stage.

Asked a question about the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Santorum voiced irritation that unnamed other candidates would seek "big applause lines" by promising to get rid of "this agency, and that agency and..uh..uh...uh...what was the other one?"

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The audience, crammed into a downtown coffee house, erupted in laughter. Santorum added that he liked Perry personally. He went on to tell another story about a later debate where Perry, he said, was standing next to him and said in response to a question that "President Obama had two options — no, three options..."

Santorum made a cringing expression, saying he thought to himself "Please don't do it again" and said a silent prayer for Perry. 

He added that Perry had leaned into him after the questioners had moved on and said wryly, "I took a bit of a risk there with that third one."

Earlier in his remarks, Santorum hit upon a new way to criticize both President Obama and Ron Paul in one sentence:

"If President Obama has four years where is is not looking to reelection, his foreign policy will not be any different to Ron Paul's foreign policy," he said. 

Santorum and others have sought to counter Paul's strong polling performance by portraying his positions as outside the mainstream.

Santorum also invoked a local conservative hero when asked a question about illegal immigration. He first recalled his own grandfather's arrival in the United States, fleeing Mussolini's Italy. But he added, "I am a Steve King guy on immigration." 

As the audience murmured in approval at the mention of King, the conservative representative who adopts an especially trenchant line against illegal immigration, Santorum added, "You know, I don't even have to say what that means."

Santorum also continued with his tendency on the stump to criticize the media, and to appeal to Iowans to cast aside the conventional wisdom. 



"The pundits, all they do is talk to each other. They don't talk to candidates like you have," he said.


For all Santorum's dings at the media, reporters are now following his campaign in abundance. Satellite trucks were jammed across parking spaces outside the Daily Grind coffeehouse where Santorum spoke.

The amount of media hubbub seemed incongruous on New Year's Day in this low-key town of 85,000 people which anchors northwest Iowa, the state's most conservative region.

Of the campaign literature that greeted attendees at Sunday afternoon's event, one piece was headlined by an endorsement from Mike Huckabee, who may have set the template Santorum hopes to follow by defeating Romney in the caucuses here four years ago. 

Another leaflet emphasized Santorum's position on guns. "When anti-gun liberals tried to punish American gunmakers, one man came to the rescue!" it proclaimed.

Santorum's conservative rivals have sharpened their attacks on him as a result of his new-found prominence. Perry has been criticizing him for days for supporting pork spending during his time on Capitol Hill. 

Earlier Sunday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), son of Ron Paul, suggested on CBS's "Face the Nation" that Santorum was a "fair-weather conservative" and was surging largely because he has not faced the same level of scrutiny as candidates who has previously risen to the top of Hawkeye State polls.