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Looking for a bounce in N.H., Santorum tries Iowa message, strategy

 

BRENTWOOD, N.H. -- Fresh off an impressive second-place finish in the Iowa caucus, Rick Santorum on Wednesday landed here hoping the same message he preached through his barnstorming tour of Iowa will be the one that keeps him in the spotlight after the Granite State's primary.

The newest presidential candidate to surge in the polls told New Hampshire voters almost verbatim what he echoed down the final stretch of his Iowa campaign. "You fight to be first. You have a responsibility in doing that, and that is to lead, not pay attention to what the polls or pundits say," he told a crowd of nearly 120 people.

His first stop in the state since the New Year showed promise. A packed house of primary voters showed a renewed interest in a candidate who just weeks ago was largely written off as a non-factor in the first-in-nation-primary.

"People have asked me repeatedly, 'Well, you know Rick, you've done well in Iowa, but you know New Hampshire's such a different place and it's just nothing like Iowa," said Santorum.  "I said, 'They're all Americans, they all have the same fundamental values that our founders put in place."

He was polling in single digits in Iowa before his surge. In New Hampshire, he was at just 5% in the last Suffolk tracking poll conducted before the Iowa caucuses. He got a slight bump today – he’s at 8% and in third place, but still well behind the months-long leader Mitt Romney, who pulls in 41%. Ron Paul is second with 18%.

The former Pennsylvania senator answered nearly every question from voters in a town hall meeting that lasted nearly two hours. While some grumbling in the audience could be heard during Santorum's many lengthy answers, the questions kept coming.

Even before he arrived, Santorum touted that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is the only candidate to eclipse him in the amount of time spent the state. But he also has acknowledged the uphill battle he now faces in a race in which Romney has a commanding lead. Santorum will on Sunday campaign in South Carolina, a move that shows he is focused beyond just New Hampshire. There, like Iowa, 60% of GOP primary voters said they were evangelical or born-again Christians. But Rick Perry threatens to cut at least somewhat into what could be a strong base for Santorum. Romney figures to have a lock on establishment Republicans from the coast to the middle of the state.

Santorum barely mentioned any of his GOP rivals during his stumping in New Hampshire yesterday -- instead focusing on President Obama. He blasted the president for the recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"This is pretty scary stuff,” Santorum charged. “And -- you said -- I hope the United States Senate does what they're supposed to do, and they should go and even take the president to court. This is not something that the president should get away with.”

And the candidate known for his emphasis on family values faced a question about his own family, namely a nephew who wrote an op-ed in support of Ron Paul.

"Of our 35 nieces and nephews, it’s pretty good," Santorum joked. "He's a Ron Paul supporter. God bless him. I mean, it’s a phase; I understand it. I mean, we all go through those things."

Santorum will make five stops through the Granite State today.

NBC's Domenico Montanaro contributed to this report.