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Santorum uses newfound attention to voice familiar message

 

CORALVILLE, Iowa -- The day after a national poll showed signs of a surge in Iowa for Rick Santorum, the presidential hopeful took to the campaign trail to voice a familiar message -- one that's now receiving an unfamiliar amount of attention.

The nearly 70 Iowans who came to hear the former Pennsylvania senator at the Coralville City Hall were nearly matched in attendance by members of the media. In the wake of a CNN/TIME poll that shows Santorum polling third in the state, the candidate who most frequently complains about his lack of media coverage has found himself swarmed by reporters just five days before the caucus.

"We used to hear all the time, 'Well you know, we like what you say, but you're not doing well in the polls.' And I kept saying, 'Don't pay attention to the polls...don't pay attention to what you see on TV, pay attention to what you feel and what you know in your heart and in your head," Santorum told reporters after the event.  "And that's what Iowans are doing right now, and I think they're coming our way."

Campaigning throughout the Hawkeye State this week, Santorum has leaned on his conservative track record and time spent in the state to ask voters not to settle on a candidate whose has not consistently shared their values. He's used strong rhetoric against Ron Paul, saying the Texas congressman's foreign policy is "disconnected from reality."

Dinging the health care bill Mitt Romney signed into law as governor of Massachusetts, Santorum said, "I've been a private sector health care guy since day one."

Operating primarily at the lower tear of the polls, Santorum has been able to largely avoid the attacks other top-tier candidates have waged on each other.  But -- in a race with a heavy emphasis on being a Washington outsider -- the 12 years Santorum spent in the U.S. Senate will likely give his detractors plenty of ammo. By mid-morning, the start of those attacks commenced with Texas Gov. Rick Perry calling him a "prolific earmarker" who "loaded up on PA pork."

Santorum explained his time in Washington as a member of Congress has given him needed experience that will complement his desire to overhaul some functions of the federal government, a delicate balance to strike in a political environment in which voters are deeply skeptical of Congress.

"I've got a recorder of an insider in the sense of being able to get things done, but an outsider in being able to do what I've done, which is reform Congress," he said.

He has used his parliamentary knowledge to blast rivals over their plans to repeal the President Obama signed health care law of 2010.

Referring to Romney's plan to give each state the opportunity to opt out of the law, the 12-year senator said, "Experience does help. And the experience of waivers is, some states will and some states won't."

Shortly thereafter, he critiqued another popular GOP plan to dissemble the legislation: "You can't do it by executive order like some others have said in this campaign. Again, experience helps."

But as Santorum enjoys the bump, signs of his lack of organization continue to show.  His campaign cancelled his next event just hours before it was scheduled to happen because the family-owned store he was set to tour ended up being closed.