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Santorum at Work in New Hampshire

11:20 AM, Jan 7, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Jaffrey, N.H.
Rick Santorum, now the hardest working presidential candidate in New Hampshire, is at Pelletier’s Sports for a “meet and greet” with the owners and employees.

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum

“I’m a big believer in retail politics,” Santorum tells me as he squeezes through the mass of television news cameras and overeager reporters. “I’m a believer in talking to people and having people have the opportunity to meet me and ask questions.” 

There are plenty of locals here hoping to ask Santorum questions, but he’s been under siege from press since he stepped out of his truck and entered the store. One woman is on her phone with a friend, describing the mob of reporters. “They’re such a pain in the ass,” she says.

While most of the candidates are going dark after this morning in order to prep for tonight’s televised debate, Santorum has filled the afternoon with more meetings with voters. “This is how I prepare for debates,” Santorum says as he shakes a few hands in Pelletier’s. 

This is Santorum’s third public event of the day, with three more to go. Compare that to three events each for Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich for the entire day. Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the January 10 primary here, has restricted public events in the state to one or two daily, and he even flew away for a day to campaign in South Carolina, which holds its primary on January 20.

Since falling short in last week’s Iowa caucuses by 8 votes, Santorum hasn’t seen anything more than a small (but significant) bump in New Hampshire polls. But his big investment there paid off: His come-from-behind performance in Iowa means that if he has a respectable showing here (or in another early state such as South Carolina), nobody will be able to write off Santorum as a fluke.

Some of the campaign stops here are obligatory, like his Friday morning visit to Lindy’s Diner in Keene. Like Graceland for Elvis fanatics, Lindy’s is simply a required stop for presidential candidates. But later that day, Santorum takes a trip to Dublin’s eponymous boarding school. The head of the Dublin School, Brad Bates, says all of the presidential candidates have been invited to speak to the students, staff, and community here, but Santorum is only the second to come. “Buddy Roemer was the first,” Bates says. 

And some of his stops seem to defy political logic. Such as the one he made in Concord. There, Santorum gives a speech and takes questions from college students attending a political science convention. The audience is palpably antagonistic and, before long, Santorum is stuck trying to debate shouting students on social issues like gay marriage. It’s not a pretty sight, but Santorum seems eager to engage them, even as the mainstream media cameras roll in the back of the room. He leaves the convention center to loud boos, jumping in his truck to move to the next event.

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