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Rick Santorum's work in Iowa paying off

Once he was so invisible he said he felt like a 'potted plant' on the debate stage. Now he's expected to finish in the top three.

January 02, 2012|By Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times
  • Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is expected to finish near the top in the Iowa caucuses.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is expected to finish near the top… (Charlie Riedel, Associated…)

Reporting from Perry, Iowa — The hard work has finally paid off for the tortoise.

Rick Santorum, who got less debate time, raised less money and spent more time in Iowa than anyone, stood happily on a staircase at the historic Hotel Pattee.

"We got here early, we got around," Santorum said. "And that's what this race has been all about, meeting with ordinary voters … and having extraordinary conversations."

As his belly strained against the sweater vest that's become his signature, it's clear that he's shared a lot of snacks with Iowans at the 377 town hall meetings he's had in all 99 counties. "And I wasn't speed-dating," he said.

This was the second of five town hall meetings Santorum hosted Monday. The three others would take place in Pizza Ranches, and all would be too small to contain the crowds now turning out for the guy once so invisible he said he felt like "a potted plant" on the debate stage. Now, he is expected to finish in the top three.

Suddenly, evangelical conservatives have found a candidate.

The crowd at his first stop, a cafe in Polk City, was so large people were turned away. At the Hotel Pattee, a hastily added stop, the crowd was lighter.

A vacuum cleaner hummed in the background. Santorum spoke louder.

"I guess we're interrupting the vacuuming," he said. "I have seven kids. I'm used to people not paying attention."

Santorum town halls are usually low-key. But there was drama aplenty Monday. In Boone, paramedics were called after someone fainted. In Newton, a voter asked about the Santorums' loss of their premature baby, Gabriel, who died hours after birth in 1996. They brought his body home because they wanted their other children to say goodbye.

Karen Santorum, who was making a rare appearance, burst into tears.

It was an emotional end to the final day of campaigning. Or perhaps, for Santorum, an emotional beginning.

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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