As Iowa vote nears, Santorum anticipates head-to-head battle with Romney

POLK CITY, Iowa — Rick Santorum took several shots at Mitt Romney during his first Monday campaign event here, seeking to neutralize the appeal of the former Massachusetts governor's business background, and implying that he lacks principle.

Referring to Romney's argument that his business career makes him well-suited to the presidency, Santorum said, "We're not looking for a chief executive officer. We're looking for a commander in chief."

He added that, during his time as a senator representing Pennsylvania, even voters who did not agree with him "knew that I believed what I said. I wasn't just saying it because politically it was the right thing to say."

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Santorum's comments reflected a growing belief in the former senator's camp that Tuesday's caucuses are coming down to a head-to-head battle between him and Romney.

"We feel good about how things are going," Santorum told a scrum of reporters after his event. "People came here undecided and they didn't leave undecided. Caucuses are all about intensity and momentum."

Santorum certainly has those things, judging from his rise in the polls and the capacity crowds, seen again this morning, that have turned out for his events in recent days.



After long months on the trail where Santorum's camp was irked by the lack of media attention he received, the candidate now has the opposite problem. The number of media representatives seemed to at least match, if not exceed, the number of voters at Monday morning's event, held in a cafe on the main square of this 3,500-person town just north of Des Moines. At least 30 members of the public were left outside, where a howling wind made the air temperature of 22 degrees feel even colder.


Inside, one foreign-born cameraman asked a woman wedged in tightly beside him which "outlet" she was from. "I'm a registered voter," she replied sharply.

Afterward, Ames resident Kim Kilzer told The Hill that she could offer no opinion on Santorum's appearance because, she said, "I was one of the ones left outside, freezing." Kilzer, however, added that she had already decided to back Santorum on caucus night.

Santorum has a habit of spending more time answering voters' questions on the stump — often in exhaustive fashion — than he takes in delivering prepared remarks. The tendency is intended to show respect for voters but its efficacy is debatable in circumstances like today's, where Santorum embarked on an extended commentary on the cloture process to an audience struggling to remain comfortable in sardine-like conditions.

As the former senator has risen in the polls, he has also faced questions about his potential electability on a national scale against President Obama.

Santorum has been trying to reassure voters by pointing to his two Senate victories in Pennsylvania in 1994 and 2000, including the initial defeat of incumbent Democratic senator Harris Wofford.

"I got Reagan Democrats to vote for me," Santorum told the crowd here. "Why? Because I talked about the things they cared about.'

But afterward, reporters asked Santorum about this third Senate bid, which he lost by 18 points to Bob Casey.

Santorum argued that 2006 was a historically bad environment in which to run as a Republican. "I could have run to the middle and lost by less, but that's not who I am," he added.

After his event here, Santorum strode into the small park in the middle of the town square. Hemmed in by a moving media scrum, Santorum asked cameramen to get out of his way, saying plaintively, "Can I at least get to see some voters?"

When the media sea parted, however, there were fewer than five people there, shivering in the cold. They proffered Santorum their good wishes, before he walked back to his vehicle and sped off to his next event.