Santorum makes a play for independents in New Hampshire

AMHERST, N.H. — Rick Santorum, who has consistently fashioned himself as staunchest conservative of the GOP bunch, is making a play for a less partisan group of voters: Independents.

Being an independent takes on a different character in New Hampshire than it does elsewhere — the state wears its “Live Free or Die” motto with pride. And at a waterside campaign stop here on Saturday, Santorum made the case that by choosing him over Mitt Romney, New Hampshire voters would be bucking the establishment that has tried to shove an unwanted candidate down their throats.

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“Ladies and gentlemen, we don’t serve sovereigns in America,” Santorum said to the applause of about 200 people who showed up to see the former Pennsylvania senator in person. “The government works for you, to protect your liberties.”

In another ode to the state’s do-it-yourself attitude, Santorum noted he wasn’t doing any appearances in New Hampshire without taking questions.

But the nature of those questions — and of the disagreeable interjections voiced by some in the audience as he delivered what had been reliable applause lines in Iowa — revealed that many in New Hampshire are finding his anti-Romney, pro-religion message dubious and slightly misplaced.

Nowhere is their suspicion more evident than when Santorum brings up Romney, who has held the clear lead in this state for the entirety of the presidential campaign.

“The leader in this race fashions himself as, ‘I’m a CEO, I’m a manager.’ Washington doesn’t need a manager,” Santorum said.


“Sure they do,” shouted one listener from the back of the crowd.

Others interrupted his speech to implore Santorum to cease the longwinded denouncement of Romney and explain his own approach to fiscal issues where he claims Romney’s record falls short of true conservatism.

“I’ll get there,” Santorum replied, before continuing to describe how much of a failure he believes Romney’s health care initiatives were in Massachusetts.

Santorum walked the careful line between expressing optimism that he could turn out a surprise showing in Tuesday’s primary here — like he did in Iowa just days ago — and setting high expectations that could later be used by opponents to claim he fell flat.

“I am convinced that we’re going to surprise a lot of people here. We started out a little farther behind than I would have liked — 39 points,” Santorum said. “And all the advertising was bought on all the shows and so we’ve just had to go out and do it the old-fashioned way.”

But Santorum’s lines of attack against President Obama — whom he accused of being an elitist snob for suggesting all young Americans should go to college — struck the biggest chord here.

And it allowed him to refocus his message on New Hampshire’s independent streak and the notion that Obama and Democrats were looking to the federal government for answers to problems that families and businesses need to solve themselves.

“If you want to send a message that is consistent with your motto, there is one choice,” Santorum said. “Think Reagan, vote Santorum.”

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