Crowd boos mentioning of McCain’s name at Santorum event

SOMERSWORTH, N.H. — Drawing an implicit contrast with Mitt Romney on the eve of the first-in-the-nation primary, Rick Santorum on Monday implored New Hampshire not to settle for a centrist, establishment candidate.

And when Santorum reminded them of the 2008 Republican nominee, the people of this small New Hampshire town bordering Maine wanted none of it.

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Lets put up Bob Dole, because its his turn, Santorum said ironically of the 1996 GOP nominee. Lets put up John McCain, because its his turn.

Some in the crowd started booing, while others cried out “No!”

The former Pennsylvania senator continued the call-and-response with the crowd at an American Legion club — one of the first Santorum campaign events since his strong showing in Iowa that wasn’t filled to capacity.

“Give us an opportunity to be that conservative alternative, not just in this primary, but the conservative alternative that will draw clear contrast,” he said, “and be able to attract the votes and voters we need to win this election.”

With Romney in a position to score his second consecutive win in the presidential contest Tuesday, Santorum and his Republican rivals know there is little time left to stop the former Massachusetts governor from locking up the nomination.

For all the non-Romney candidates — Santorum, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul — it comes down to who can convince voters he is both a true conservative and electable in a match against President Obama.

That’s a difficult balance to strike in New Hampshire, where voters are often wary of social conservatives. Republicans chose McCain, a time-tested, establishment candidate, in 2008, and it didn’t pay off.

“I think McCain just went with the wind. But Santorum believes in what he believes in. He doesn’t change,” said Sister Mary Rose of Rochester, N.H., thumbing a cross that was draped over her baby-blue habit.

Santorum told Granite State voters there was no scenario in which Obama could lose the former senator’s home state of Pennsylvania and still win the presidency. And he assured them he would win that state — leaving out the fact that he lost his last reelection bid to the Senate there by 18 points.

But none of that baggage was evident Monday as Santorum worked the crowd with ease and sociability. Dressed in one of the sweater vests that have become a familiar icon of his presidential bid, he beamed a confident smile, betraying none of the uncertainty that his slipping poll numbers suggest.

If Santorum didn’t actually recognize the members of the crowd whom he singled out with a point of the finger or a thumbs-up, he did nothing to let it be known.

“Do what’s necessary,” he said. “Give the Republican Party what’s necessary to create so that we can win.”