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Santorum pleads with GOP to stop primary calendar 'insanity'

Alex Moe/NBC News

Rick Santorum speaks to a crowd at Smokey Row coffeehouse in Des Moines, Iowa Sunday.

DES MOINES, Iowa—Rick Santorum defended Iowa's traditional role in holding the primary cycle's first nominating contest in an appearance here Sunday afternoon.

Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and presidential candidate, pleaded with GOP leaders to "stop the insanity" before a crowd of about 50 people at a local coffee house.

“Stop the insanity, which is what's going on right now,” Santorum told the crowd at Smokey Row. “We should be talking about the issues. We shouldn't be talking about when caucuses and primaries are.”

Santorum was referring to calendar shuffling by the GOP in Florida, and then Nevada, which placed the nominating contests in their respective states a month ahead of schedule. Florida moved to Jan. 31, and Nevada followed suit, moving its caucuses to Jan. 14. Those moves have left Iowa and New Hampshire—the nation’s first two nominating contests—facing the possibility of moving their own contests back, perhaps into the thick of the holiday season.

“This is the most important election in my opinion since the civil war,” Santorum said. “To push the nominating process for president in this watershed election into  the middle of the Christmas season is unconscionable.”

Santorum blamed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for encouraging the reshuffling of the nominating calendar to better serve his won campaign, which has largely steered clear of the Hawkeye State.

“I think he [Romney] wants Iowa to be a non-factor in this primary because he's not spending time here, and I don't think he believes he's going to do particularly well here,” Santorum told reporters. “And I think he'd like to minimize the importance of Iowa and have the real focus be on New Hampshire. And I think that's what this is all about.”

The former senator from Pennsylvania has staked his campaign on everyman accessibility, holding informal town halls throughout the entire state. Santorum has held more than 150 events in more than 70 of Iowa’s 99 counties. He promises to visit the remainder before the caucuses. Romney returns to Iowa Thursday after a two month absence.

Santorum’s event here was only arraigned yesterday after he cancelled a campaign stop in Reno to protest Nevada’s early caucus date. During the speech today, he congratulated his fellow GOP contenders who plan, along with him, to boycott the Nevada caucus—Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, and Herman Cain.

The Republican field (minus Huntsman) will face off in a debate Tuesday in Las Vegas, where Santorum believes the Nevada caucus date will be a topic of discussion.

“I look forward to the interaction,” Santorum said.