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Santorum: 'Frustrating' GOP debates taught me I need to 'chill'

Rick Santorum, riding a surge in the polls in Iowa the weekend before the caucuses, said Friday that his campaign has been working hard but also learning to "chill." 

"We've been chillin'," Santorum told NBC News, and he thinks it is paying off.

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Santorum polled in third place in at least two recent Iowa polls, a jump to the top tier in the first-voting state. But for much of the past year his campaign has struggled to gain attention.

"I would never say there was a discouraging moment when I was on the road. ... I feed off the fact that I had the opportunity to go out in this country and talk about the important issues of the day and how we have to make a change in Washington," Santorum said of his days campaigning on the road without much attention. "That's an honor to have that opportunity."

But he admitted to some "frustrating moments" during presidential debates. He said he was "guilty" of “feeling like I needed to buy a ticket to be at the debate sometimes."

The frustration showed through in the debates, Santorum said. Although Santorum has become a top-level contender recently, during the debates he trailed the front-runners in the polls, who are typically asked more questions.

"It probably didn’t serve me well to have that kind of feeling at the time," Santorum said.

He added that his daughter told him to "chill," advice he took and credited for helping him in more recent debates.

"When you sit there for 45 minutes and they don't ask you a question, it's hard to chill," he said. "It's a process. In the last few debates, that's sort of helped us, because we've been chillin' and that's been helpful."