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Santorum says ailing daughter 'had a big smile on her face'

LUVERNE, MN -- Those thinking Rick Santorum would never be able to recapture what his campaign had in the Hawkeye State were wrong, at least for a night, when the Iowa caucus victor made a stop here in a town just ten miles north of the state that catapulted his candidacy.

Santorum held his first campaign event in a part of Minnesota just north of Lyon County Iowa, the northwest most part of Iowa with a large contingent of evangelical voters and an area where caucus returns were overwhelmingly in his favor.


Even the originally scheduled venue, a Pizza Ranch restaurant , was reminiscent of his Iowa campaign.  He held more than 30 town halls at the restaurants located throughout the state.  Monday's town hall ended up being moved to a theater next door to accommodate the 300 person crowd, though he stopped by after to grab a bite.

"I figured, lets start bordering Lyon County as a point of strength...and make this the focal point, the starting point, for our campaign across Minnesota," said Santorum.

It was the former Pennsylvania senators first day back on the trail since his 3-year-old daughter was admitted to a Virginia hospital after developing pneumonia in both lungs.  Bella Santorum suffers from the genetic disorder Trisomy 18 and has battled the life threatening illness all of her life.  She is still in the hospital but has shown major improvements.

"I was with her last night in the hospital bed, laid with her and slept with her last night," said Santorum.  "She woke up this morning and had a big smile on her face and I thought, 'OK, dad can go back to work now.'"

He canceled campaign events in Florida on Sunday, and chose to continue his campaign with a stop in Missouri on Monday before heading to Minnesota.  He will watch Florida returns in from his Nevada headquarters.

"I don't know what's going to happen in Florida tomorrow, but it's only one race," he said. "Everyone says, 'Oh it's over then.'  It will not be. This race is going to go on a long time, and it needs to go on a long time."

Attempting to win over voters ahead of the Minnesota's Feb. 7 caucus, Santorum painted himself as the true social conservative in the race.

He talked about protecting anti-abortion rights and the importance of family -- points that have played less of a role in his stump speech since leaving Iowa.  Abandoning Florida the day before the primary shows he is focusing outside the expensive where he struggled to compete with his better funded GOP rivals and where recent polls have him a distant third.

"This is one of those races that we shouldn't make rash decisions just because someone has the most money.  Let me assure you, no matter how much more money Gov. Romney has than either Newt or I have, he's not going to have near the money President Obama's going to have.  So if you think that we're going to win this race because Gov. Romney will have more money to beat up Barack Obama, then Barack Obama will have to beat him up, you're wrong," said Santorum. "Having the most money isnt going to win this race.  having the best candidate with the best ideas"

It is caucus states like Minnesota, Colorado and Nevada were the presidential hopeful is now focusing in the hopes of being able to pick up delegates without having to outright win a state.  His message is that the baggage and records of his competitors will be a distraction in a head-to-head matchup with President Obama.

The general election "can't be about someone who is an undisciplined politician who is coming up with a new idea every ten seconds, most of which don't make any sense. Or someone who is a recent conservative in order to be able to win an election as is in both of their cases, on the major issues of the day,"

the GOP hopeful told the crowd.  Santorum has previously taken swipes at former Speaker Newt Gingrich for proposing a permanent U.S. base on the moon, Mitt Romney for never having won an election while running as a conservative.

The Santorum campaign will split time between Colorado and Nevada over the early part of this week.