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Santorum talks straw poll and downgrade

AMES, IA -- Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has spoken at more than 100 events across Iowa in the past several weeks, but the staff here at the charming Cafe Diem this morning still wasn't exactly sure who the jovial, hand-shaking man in the cowboy boots was.

"I think his name is Santor...um?" a barista told an inquiring customer this morning in Ames.

This lack of name recognition and low poll numbers haven't stopped Santorum from barnstorming the Hawkeye State aggressively. In fact, the challenge seems to fuel his fire (with five events scheduled today alone in Iowa). Santorum proudly acknowledged that he is operating a grassroots campaign ahead of the Ames Straw Poll on Saturday.

"It's a straw poll. You don't need a million votes," he told reporters this morning. "You need a few thousand votes, so we'll see how that works. We're not spending any money here. We don't have the ads. We've got a little staff -- my kids, me and that's what we're doing."

Although NBC News has covered Santorum's events for the past ten days straight, the former senator complained that he has only today begun receiving national attention.

"The press is like Wall Street. They only look at what happened last," Santorum told a reporter, citing his Senate defeat in 2006. "You gotta look at the track record of the company, you can't just look at the last earnings report... Some companies have bad earnings reports for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with the internal makeup of the company."

Santorum also slammed President Obama for the current economic climate and last Friday's downgrade. "We are on the brink of a second recession," he exclaimed to voters.

"The person who is responsible for this downgrade is in the White House," said Santorum to applause. "The impact of this could be really epic."