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Iowa Caucus Results: Rick Santorum Rises To The Top

First Posted: 01/04/2012 1:29 am Updated: 01/04/2012 11:26 am

JOHNSTON, Iowa -- Rick Santorum didn't attract much attention a few weeks ago.

On December 15, the former Pennsylvania senator drew about 20 people, plus two reporters, to an event in the town of Sac City, Iowa. Later, in a coffee shop in Holstein, there were a few more reporters and voters but little excitement. That evening, Santorum stood far from the middle of the stage at a GOP debate in Sioux City.

Three weeks later, after he finished in second place, just eight votes behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses, the mood was different. A crowd of his supporters packed a ballroom in the Stoney Creek Inn here, waving signs, chanting "We pick Rick" and singing "Amazing Grace" and "God Bless America."

Events held throughout the past week drew similar crowds and enthusiasm, showing a marked increase in support for Santorum following his so-called "surge" in the polls. Some Iowa voters said his improved polling results gave them more confidence he was a strong candidate worthy of their vote.

Katy Kauffman, a 48-year-old teacher who lives in the Des Moines suburbs, said after the event that she was elated when the results started rolling in. She was standing near the front of the room, which was hot and packed with supporters. Organizers later asked them to lower their signs, so as not to obstruct the television cameras' view of the podium.

Kauffman has caucused and voted in Iowa before, but she has never volunteered for a campaign or served as a caucus captain, the person who steps up to talk about their preferred candidate before the caucus vote. She did those things for Santorum this year, she said, because she felt inspired to support him.

"I can't think of anybody better than him," she said. "I really can't think of anyone in the country better than him, not just the people that are running."

Judging by the crowds he attracted, and the members of the media who swarmed to cover his events, others were drawn to him as well in the final days of the Iowa campaign.

On Monday, at an appearance in a location of a pizza chain in Boone, Iowa, there were so many supporters in attendance that many spilled over to outer sections of the restaurant. They were unable to see Santorum from where they crowded, and could only hear him when he began to speak in a near-yell.

When Santorum visited Sioux City, Iowa, on Sunday, the pastor who introduced him came close to tears while talking about the need to change the direction of the country. Men and women stood on chairs and tables to see him. One woman said "amen" nearly every time Santorum finished a sentence.

Later that day in Orange Rapids, Iowa, supporters watched raptly as Santorum talked about abortion. The candidate is staunchly opposed to abortion and says the issue is the most important to him, but he discusses it far more frequently when appearing in front of evangelicals than he does elsewhere. Those voters, especially, often became solemn as he argued that the future of the country's values is hanging in the balance.

"It's so sad," one woman said to another, looking solemn.

Santorum prides himself on taking questions -- and giving long-winded answers in response -- until there are none left, and he continued to hold hourlong question-and-answer sessions with voters until caucus night.

Whether his strategy will work beyond Iowa remains to be seen, but he certainly talked it up here. There were a few things he mentioned in every stump speech without fail: his small traveling campaign staff, the number of speeches he had made already -- a number in the 370s, he says -- and the phrase "You can't buy Iowans."

Santorum's campaign manager, Michael Biundo, told reporters Tuesday evening that the candidate's message won't change as he moves to New Hampshire, the state that will hold the first primary election on Jan. 10.

"Things changed two weeks ago, and it just keeps building from there," he said.

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