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Santorum Stepping Up In New Hampshire04:44
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Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum shakes hands during a campaign stop in Brentwood, N.H., on Wednesday. (AP)
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum shakes hands during a campaign stop in Brentwood, N.H., on Wednesday. (AP)

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, who lost the Iowa caucuses to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by only eight votes, walked into a packed auditorium here Wednesday, shaking hands with visitors and supporters.

When he got to the podium, it didn’t take long before Santorum addressed the question that’s on everybody’s minds:

"People have asked me, repeatedly, they’ve said Rick, you’ve done well in Iowa, but New Hampshire's such a different place. And it's just nothing like Iowa. I said, all Americans, they all have the same fundamental values that our Founders put in place."

Most in the crowd were seeing Santorum in person for the first time. And it’s understandable. Earlier this week, a Suffolk University poll put his voter support in the single digits. But now, on the heels of his near-win in Iowa, Santorum is getting a closer look and at least a financial bounce of $1 million. He told the crowd that donations Wednesday alone more than doubled what his campaign had raised until then.

"The vast majority of it was online, and I don’t think there’s a lot of corporate interests donating to me online," he said. "So we feel very good about the grassroots support we’ve gotten."

The corporate reference was a subtle jab at his chief rival in the Republican primary. But Santorum never called Romney by name. Instead, he went directly after somebody else.

"See, the problem with President Obama, he doesn’t really want to gather you all together to fix this problem. He’d rather divide and conquer."

"He could defeat Obama."

Lisa Swasey

Santorum’s talk was a town hall forum-style. In his answers, he spent less time talking about social conservative issues, and more on financial conservative ones. He touted lower taxes. He shared his support for gun rights. And he criticized big government.

"The reason I am in this race is because of ‘Obamacare.’ I think Obamacare will turn every American into a dependent American, someone who will be relying on the federal government."

Santorum looked comfortable. He bantered with the audience well, and was funny at times. When one person asked his about his nephew, who’s a supporter of GOP rival candidate Ron Paul, Santorum joked that the teenager is going through a “phase.”

As Santorum left, making his way out of the crowd, Lisa Swasey from Brentwood didn’t chase him down to hear more. She’d already found out what she wanted to know.

"He could defeat Obama."

Swasey says Santorum had a handle on the issues and was authentic. She’s not a fan of Romney; she says she saw what he did in Massachusetts and she doesn’t like it. But Swasey's not yet sold on Santorum.

"I just have to make sure that he’s not an extremist," Swasey said. She’s worried about his ties to the Tea Party.

Kathy Casey from Durham also wants to hear more, though she was impressed with how Santorum appealed to the independent streak of New Hampshire voters. Even so, she wishes the man who first went to Congress at the age of 32 had more experience in the private sector, like his main opponent. Casey says the next president needs to fix not just the national budget, but the economy, too. And she’s torn.

"Actually, it’s between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. I have not made up my mind yet, and voting’s next week, so I better do it fast!"

Lass than a week for Santorum to give Romney a run for his money, or at least win enough votes to knock out some other candidates before the following primary in South Carolina. It’s not a lot of time, but for maybe the first time, people are listening.

This program aired on January 5, 2012.

Curt Nickisch Twitter Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.

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