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Santorum continues anti-gay rhetoric, takes shot at Bachmann, rest of field

ANAMOSA, CEDAR RAPIDS, HIAWATHA, Iowa, and WASHINGTON -- Rick Santorum today finally wrapped up his 50-city tour de Iowa.

He continued to press anti-gay views, saying that calling same-sex marriage a marriage would be like calling a cup of tea a basketball.

He repeatedly quoted a study that families do better in heterosexual marriages. Though that study actually uses the phrase "nuclear" family, which can include same-sex couples.

Three supporters of same-sex marriage stood with posters next to the National Organization of Marriage bus, including Alice McCabe and her husband, who have a daughter and daughter-in-law with a daughter in Minneapolis. The National Organization of Marriage has asked Republican presidential candidates to sign an anti-gay marriage pledge.

On sex columnist Dan Savage's threat to mess with search results for Santorum's first name -- having already done so with his surname, Santorum called it “disgusting.”

"It doesn't deserve any kind of recognition,” he said. “This is the kind of disgusting discourse in our society that coarsens our society and doesn't add value. Because we have a society now with the Internet that anybody on the extreme fringe can post things and be heard, it doesn't mean that should be paid attention to."

At another stop, Santorum, got in a dig at Iowa frontrunner Michele Bachmann.

"Several candidates are members of Congress, never even won statewide,” he said. “If you look at those four folks, three of them on stage represent the most Republican districts in their state. And two of the three have a hard time winning that district."

Santorum, by contrast, was a senator from Pennsylvania, a Democratic-leaning state. But he lost reelection badly in 2006 by 18 percentage points to Bob Casey.

In Cedar Rapids, he said the reason Texas Gov. Rick Perry is considering a bid is because no one has “caught fire” yet. And then tried to make the case for his candidacy.

“What it shows is that the favorites of race, folks who have been getting the most attention in this race have not caught fire,” Santorum said. “People in the Republican Party are looking for somebody different. We hope to give them that a little view of what's a little different in the Ames Straw Poll by exceeding expectations and doing better and getting a little notoriety with this event, so I welcome Gov. Perry.

“We have some differences. I respect those differences, as I do with other candidates in the race, but he'll bring another perspective, which I'm looking forward to debating.”

Elsewhere, Santorum Highlighted the stakes of the straw poll. "We need a good bump from there,” he said. “We really do need a good bump."

After all this campaigning, a poor showing would likely doom his campaign.

Finally in Anamosa, the myriad of stops seemed to take a toll on Santorum, who was popping throat lozenges while speaking to 38 voters at the Lawrence Community Center.

His campaign told NBC News, in fact, Santorum has laryngitis – not good news for a candidate struggling to make a dent in the polls and hoping to get noticed at tomorrow night’s nationally broadcast debate just two days before Ames.

Despite the throat issue, he took questions here for more than an hour, hitting familiar GOP applause lines on health care and spending. But the candidate acknowledged the laryngitis could be a hurdle.

"I'm a little worried about tomorrow night,” Santorum told NBC News.