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Santorum says Iran, national security may top jobs as voters' main concerns

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. --  Rick Santorum cautioned Missouri voters on Saturday that jobs may not be the most important issue in the November election and laughed off claims by Mitt Romney's campaign that he was not the day's big winner after a decisive victory in the Kansas caucuses.

After new jobs numbers released on Friday revealed more positive signs for the economy, the former Pennsylvania senator warned about the threat of a nuclear Iran and said national security could become the issue of top concern for voters heading into the general election this fall.

"People say, 'Well what’s gonna be the most important, oh jobs, jobs, jobs.' Well maybe not," Santorum told a crowd of 700 Republicans gathered for a Lincoln Day dinner. "We’ve got a country in the Middle East that’s about, potentially about to explode a nuclear weapon, which would change the face of our Earth."

The important role the economy will play in this election has been a central tenet of Romney's campaign. The former Massachusetts governor often cites his experience in the private sector as proof he is best suited to fix the economy. It's an experience he argues no other Republican presidential candidate has. But Santorum's argument Saturday night was that he is the only candidate with the experience to keep America safe.

"We have candidates running around saying they want to run for CEO of America. I’m running to be the commander in chief for America,” Santorum said.

His two stops here came at the end of what was a good day for the presidential hopeful’s up and down candidacy.

Saturday morning, aides said, they raised $85,000 in cash during a fundraiser in Houston, Texas, with the 200 conservatives in attendance pledging another $1.78 million to go toward both the campaign and the pro-Santorum Super PAC "Red, White and Blue Fund." In the afternoon, results came in from the Kansas caucuses that showed him earning a resounding victory.

Also Saturday, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., announced her support for Santorum. It is one of the few endorsements he has earned from members of Congress he served with during his 16 years on Capitol Hill.

But seeking to counter the positive headlines, Romney's campaign again pointed to the math that they claim falls in their favor.

"Today, Mitt Romney won more delegates than any of the other candidates and continued his momentum and path to getting the delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination," Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul wrote in an email to reporters. Romney racked up wins in Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Virgin Islands, and Wyoming, a state whose delegate apportionment has yet to be fully settled.

Greeting voters at a later event in a hangar in the Cape Girardeau airport, Santorum laughed off the Romney campaign's assertion. "It's sounding very desperate for a man who supposedly has it in the bag," he said.

"We need a strong contrasting vision for this country and Gov. Romney doesn't provide that and I think the people of Kansas spoke very, very loudly about their concerns about his viability," Santorum added.

The presidential hopeful expressed his profound gratitude to the "Show Me State," which, along with Minnesota and Colorado, gave him three big victories last month that gave new life to his candidacy.  Though Missouri's primary in February awarded no delegates, it proved to be a big win for a candidate who seemed to have stalled out after winning the Iowa caucuses.

“I should be applauding you and not the other way around," Santorum said. "I can say this without hesitation: If it wasn’t for the people of Missouri I wouldn’t be standing here today ... I greatly appreciate the warm reception, and I have to just say again, I do mean that what happened during the primary here and the caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado, gave the country an opportunity to take a second look."