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Two Candidates With Prospects In N.H. Are A World Apart04:36
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Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, left, speaks during a campaign appearance in Knoxville, Iowa. In a Jan. 2, 2012 GOP presidential candidate former Mitt Romney in Clive, Iowa. (AP)
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, left, speaks during a campaign appearance in Knoxville, Iowa. In a Jan. 2, 2012 GOP presidential candidate former Mitt Romney in Clive, Iowa. (AP)

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is campaigning in South Carolina Friday morning, but he returns to New Hampshire in the evening. Romney maintains a commanding lead in the polls in New Hampshire. But former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania, is getting a bounce from his near-tie with Romney in the Iowa caucuses.

Go to an event for each one, and you will find a stark contrast between them.

Romney's events are a reflection of him. They are meticulously planned. He has the best advance team on the campaign trail. They pay attention to every detail. At a Romney town hall meeting in Salem Thursday, there were camera platforms and a sophisticated lighting system. The sound system worked perfectly, as it always does.

And Romney brought a big star: the man who beat him in New Hampshire four years ago, John McCain.

"I would argue that a person with the leadership skills, the proven service in public office and an understanding of our economy and what it needs to get back on its feet, that this is the person that we should send to the White House next January," McCain said.

"I really do think that we are facing now is a question about the direction for the country."

Mitt Romney

Romney struck one of the themes he often hits on the trail.

"I really do think that we are facing now is a question about the direction for the country, a question about the soul of America, and what kind of a nation we are, and what kind of a nation we're going to pass on to our kids," Romney said.

In the crowd of about 200 people, there were Romney supporters who admire his business skills, his turnaround of the Salt Lake City Olympics, and his success in putting the Massachusetts health care plan in place, and who seem confident that he can win the primary.

The polish of the Romney event stood in sharp contrast to the pell-mell affair for Santorum.

The restored railroad station in Northfield, next to the raging Winnipesaukee River North of Concord, was filled with people. But no camera platforms, no sound system, just more than an hour of give-and-take between Santorum and the crowd. They asked him about the economy, the budget, Social Security and his values. Unlike Romney, Santorum sounded like the working-class conservative he's trying to appeal to. He talked about his religious upbringing.

"I went to Catholic grade school. That was part of my formation, as you know, the nuns beat my hands," Santorum said as he rapped his hand. "I still got some scars from the rulers."

Santorum was asked about his influences, and when he talked about his immigrant grandfather, you could hear him connecting with the crowd, and he didn't sound like he had to try.

"[He] was just a big strong man and smoked everything all day long," Santorum said, drawing an uproar of laughter from the crowd. "Pipes, cigars, cigarettes, had his whiskey in the morning with his coffee. He was just a whole different breed of cat."

It's the kind of straight talk New Hampshire voters loved about McCain. Santorum answered their questions directly and in detail and sometimes would ask them rhetorical questions, like a teacher. Some of the voters at the event already liked the evangelical candidate and shared his values.

Sarah Smith home-schools her three youngest children. So it was a good field trip for them. Smith says she was going to support Santorum all along, but had to see him in order to be sure of one thing.

"I didn't know if he'd be able to stand up to Obama, and I believe now, that with the support in Iowa, that he definitely can, and I think he'll gain a lot of support through that," Smith said.

Smith said voting for Santorum is now mission one.

And Santorum needs that help. He's moving up in the polls in New Hampshire, but he's still way behind Romney and Ron Paul.

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This program aired on January 6, 2012.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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