In a clear reference to her uphill fight, she spoke of Jonathan's battlefield triumph over the Philistines despite overwhelming odds. "What he did was step out in faith," Bachmann said. "That's something this church knows something about."
Afterward, Bachmann said she was not worried about losing evangelical support to Santorum. Standing on the sidewalk outside in a whipping cold wind, Bachmann said she put her faith in Iowans to vote their hearts. "I am the best person to take on Barack Obama and defeat him because I will have a clear conscience when I stand on the debate stage," Bachmann said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has also competed vigorously for the support of social conservatives, took a day off the campaign trail, but still managed to get in a few shots at the field's newest target. "He's got a spending problem; he's got an earmark problem; he voted eight times to raise the debt ceiling," Perry said of Santorum on "Fox News Sunday."
Paul took the weekend off.
The Santorum surge vindicates his strategy, which placed faith in Iowa's deeply valued tradition of close-contact campaigning. The practice had seemed dated in a contest shaped by more than a dozen far-flung debates and the rise of social media.
While others rose and then stumbled in the national floodlights, Santorum quietly worked Iowa's small towns and back roads, holding marathon question-and-answer sessions lasting two hours or more.
"The potential was there from Day One for Santorum to emerge as the social conservative alternative to Romney," said Craig Robinson, a GOP strategist and publisher of the Iowa Republican, a website. "He speaks their language — it's part of his DNA — and because he's spent a lot of time in Iowa and given people hundreds of opportunities to get to know him, that's become clear over time."
Times staff writers Paul West, Seema Mehta and James Oliphant contributed to this report.