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Rick Santorum plays the expectations game in New Hampshire

January 05, 2012|By Paul West
  • Rick Santorum speaks to members of the media following his appearance at a Rotary Club breakfast in Manchester N.H. on Jan 5, 2012.
Rick Santorum speaks to members of the media following his appearance at… (Matthew Cavanaugh / Getty…)

Reporting from Northfield, N.H. — Fresh off a near-victory in Iowa's caucuses, Rick Santorum is forecasting a surge of support in New Hampshire. But he's also doing his best to keep expectations low.

The former Pennsylvania senator, starting his first full day of New Hampshire campaigning since arriving in the Granite State late Wednesday, said his goal here -- and down the road when the GOP presidential contest heads South -- remains the same: He's out to solidify his position as the conservative alternative to front-running Mitt Romney.

"We're the folks that have the momentum. We're the folks that people are getting excited about," Santorum told reporters Thursday morning. "Obviously when Mitt Romney is at 40% in the polls the chances in five days to make up a 35- or 40-point lead is going to be limited.

"But we expect to make a run and move up in those polls and show that we're the candidate with momentum and we'll carry that into South Carolina," Santorum said after addressing a Rotary Club breakfast in Manchester, the state's largest city.

Then he jumped into the black pickup truck that will ferry him into the conservative North Country for a town-hall style rally at an old train depot in Northfield, N.H., a speech to college-age activists in the state capital of Concord and an evening town hall session in the populous southern tier that stretches to the Massachusetts border.

In a sign that the Romney camp is taking Santorum more seriously, the former Massachusetts governor's press office emailed reporters an excerpt from a CNN interview with Sen. John McCain, a two-time New Hampshire primary winner who endorsed Romney on Wednesday.

McCain attacked Santorum over his former colleagues support for earmarked federal spending, the use of the appropriations process to fund pet projects in lawmakers' home districts or states.

"He and I had very strong differences on earmarking and pork barrel spending. I believe that earmarking is a gateway drug to corruption. Senator Santorum supported it and engaged in it as much as he possibly could. I strongly disagreed with it. That was a fundamental difference we had in the Senate. But I still respect him," McCain said.

The latest polls show Santorum with only about 5% support in this state, which has a history of going its own way and ignoring -- even reversing--the results of the Iowa contest. He's in a close contest for the runner-up spot with Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman, well behind Romney, whose victory in the first primary is all but certain.

paul.west@latimes.com

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