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Santorum’s Support Grows

But will it be enough?

9:51 PM, Jan 2, 2012 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Perry, Iowa
Bill Yewell had no idea he was so powerful. Yewell, a Rick Santorum supporter from Odgen, Iowa, conducted his own, personal phone bank on behalf of the candidate.

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum

“I called 26 people last night,” he told me. “I just told them that Rick was going to be down here and that he was going to be in Boone at 2 o’clock, and that if they hadn’t made up their minds yet this was a good opportunity to come down and to hear what he has to say. And the funny part was about 10 of the people I talked to said they had been lookin’ at Santorum and liked what he had to say but they hadn’t made up their minds. I couldn’t believe what they told me then.” He paused, looked at my audio recorder, and raised his eyebrows as if to say, wait until you get a load of this.

“If you like him, maybe we’d really look at workin’ for him. And I thought, ‘whoa,’ I didn’t realize I had that kind of power.”

When I asked if he’d convinced anyone to come hear Santorum speak, he surveyed the room and began pointing. “There’s a couple right here,” he said. “And these people right here, that that lady right there, and that family, too. There’s quite a few of them that I talked to.”

Santorum spoke for more than 45 minutes, standing on the stairs in the lobby of the historic Hotel Pattee in downtown Perry. He touched on Iran, health care, immigration, and spending – making the case that he is the strongest conservative in the field of Republicans running for president. The format – a short speech followed by questions from voters and reporters – meant that Santorum spent most of his time talking about policy and relatively less time talking about the race and the caucuses to be held less than 36 hours after his appearance here. The voters I spoke with seemed to like that.

When he did talk about the race, he was unsparing in his criticism of his opponents. After ticking off a list of five tax deductions that a President Santorum would keep when he reforms the IRS, Santorum joked that he remembered all of the items on the list. He declared that Ron Paul “belongs to the Dennis Kucinich wing of the Democratic party.” And when he was asked why voters concerned with electability in the fall should choose him, he took the opening to boast that he won as a conservative in an increasingly blue Pennsylvania, while Romney won in Massachusetts because he “never ran as a conservative and tried to attract any voters” on that basis.

Santorum has an easy, comfortable speaking style. He doesn’t use notes and his manner feels like a conversation, not a lecture.

In listening to four speeches he’s given over the past three days, it’s easy to understand what Santorum hopes voters will take away from their time with him: He knows what he believes, and he’ll do what he says. In Perry on Monday, he made that point no fewer than five times – in discussions of Iran, spending, health care, immigration, and his 18-point loss to Bob Casey in 2006.

It worked for several of the people I talked to after the event. Mark DeFord, from nearby Linden, says he intends to caucus for Santorum on Tuesday. Asked why, he tells me: “He’s got solid conservative credentials, he believes in principles, and he does what he says.”

Santorum’s hopes for a win in Iowa depend on his maintaining the momentum that has shown up in polling this week. In the Des Moines Register poll, he effectively picked up three points a day – from 10 percent on the first of four days of polling to 22 percent on the final day. If he maintained that pace, he’d end up in the low 30s on caucus night. That’s not likely, but if the trend continues he would overperform the Des Moines Register poll. In 2008, the surging candidates did just that. Mike Huckabee added 2 ½ points to his final Des Moines Register number, and Barack Obama added 5 ½. Can Santorum do the same?

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