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How Rick Santorum Pulled It Off: A Tale Of Two Supporters (VIDEO)

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WAUKEE, Iowa -- Sarah Bowman still feels burned by 2008. That year, the ardent social conservative and Republican Party activist went pragmatic, held her nose and cast a vote for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), guessing he had the best chance to win the White House. She wonders now, what was the point of compromising simply to lose anyway?

"I think we made a very critical error in 2008, because we were trying to get a candidate who could beat Hillary or Obama," she told HuffPost on Tuesday. "What we need to get back to is not voting for somebody who can beat the other guy, but voting for somebody we can believe in."

But her search for such a somebody in this year's Iowa caucus wasn't as easy as she'd hoped.

Her first choice, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, dropped out after a letdown performance at the Ames Straw Poll. "I hadn't even washed my [Pawlenty] T-shirt," she recalled, adding that learning of his decision to quit "was like getting broken up with over Twitter."

Bowman's family, like most families, is complicated, making the search for the right social conservative that much more fraught.

Husband Dave Bowman, for his part, missed the 2008 Iowa caucus because he was stationed in Iraq. There, he said, he met plenty of gay and lesbian service members, and, to a man and woman, they were fine soldiers. Gay marriage is legal in Iowa, and both Dave and Sarah were honored to be part of his sister's wedding -- one son, Liam, serving as a flower bearer, Sarah said. The couple had Liam, a surprise, out of wedlock and faced down the judgment of fellow Iowa conservatives. Liam is now six, with two younger brothers, and the Bowmans are husband and wife.

Rick Santorum may seem like an odd choice, but both Bowmans got behind him -- Dave much more reluctantly than Sarah. As of Monday, he was still undecided, citing "the gay marriage thing."

"That's where we're differing," Sarah said about the couple and Santorum, whose activism against gay rights has been so hostile that his name has been turned into a literal description of a sometime byproduct of anal sex.

Dave came around because Santorum wouldn't have the ability, even as president, to snap his fingers and outlaw gay marriage, he figured. Sarah was less ambivalent, so much so that she agreed to speak on behalf of Santorum.

Arriving at a megachurch in Waukee for the caucus, Sarah was in for a surprise: She would be speaking after Ann Romney and Rick Perry.

By the evening's end, the Bowmans and others like them had come through for Santorum: He finished the Iowa caucuses in a virtual tie with first-place finisher Mitt Romney.

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