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Santorum says opponents are all flash

MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA -- Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said yesterday that the top contenders in the presidential primary are like a “shiny penny” with which the media is temporarily distracted.

Wrapping up a three-day trip to South Carolina, Santorum told forty people at a Horry County GOP meeting that his campaign is like the “little engine that could." 

“You have all of these bright shiny engines coming down the tracks, past the disabled train and the media just, it’s like a shining penny that they just keep looking at,” he said.

“Several months ago we just hitched up the train and started chugging along,” he said about his own campaign. He later noted his victory in a Republican straw poll in his home state of Pennsylvania, in which he took 36 percent of the vote, beating former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 25 percent and Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 18 percent.

Given that yesterday’s event was a Constitution Day prayer meeting, Santorum said he believed the Founding Fathers did not intend to remove religion “completely out of the public square,” as he said John F. Kennedy did when he became president.

“The separation of church and state was never to protect the state from religion but religion from the state. It was a one-way, not a two-way wall,” he said.

He also he supports a federally uniform definition of marriage, and criticized candidates who support a Constitutional marriage amendment but say they would allow states to decide the issue in the meantime, chiding Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann by name.

“They go out and say, ‘but we’re for the federal marriage amendment,’ therefore they can appeal to both sides. They can say ‘it’s fine with me, and yet it’s not fine.’ Sort of like what Barack Obama does.”

Santorum also claimed Bachmann was inconsistent in her views on states’ rights, noting that she would leave same sex marriage up to the states, but not decisions about health insurance.

“She said that states have the right to change the marriage law. And then in the last debate, she said states don’t have the right to mandate insurance. I found that to be rather challenging, intellectually,” he said, as members of the audience responded with scattered laughter and whispers.

The forty people who listened to Santorum made a small dent in the large conference room where the event took place – something Johnnie Bellamy, the chairwoman of the Horry County GOP, noted when Santorum finished speaking.

“The number of the people here is not indicative of the quality of the candidate. We had the same type of meeting with Michele Bachmann, the same number of people,” Bellamy said.

The prayer meeting may have lost attendees to two other big Saturday-evening events: home football games for both Clemson University in Greenville and the University of South Carolina in Columbia, lending credence to the adage that in the South, football is religion.