Rick Santorum Plants a Flag in South Carolina, Thinks He Can Win the First in the South Primary

Jan 8, 2012 10:59pm

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Rick Santorum returned to South Carolina today, even though it was just two days until New Hampshire’s first in the nation primary, to send a signal to the state that he’s competing in the Granite State, but it’s here that he thinks he can win.

“Here in South Carolina, it’s game on,” he told Republicans at the Greenville Republican Party Fundraising Dinner this evening, repeating his now-famous phrase from his speech after his virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses.

At two stops in Greenville, he contrasted himself with Mitt Romney, who is still at the top of the polls here, and asked conservatives in the state to coalesce around him as the non-Romney candidate, telling voters, “South Carolina has to speak clearly.”

“We do not need just a little better than what we have now. We need big change in Washington, D.C. You have an opportunity if we rally around,” Santorum said, urging conservatives not to splinter, while referring to Romney without mentioning his name.

“You all have networks of conservatives who are trying to find that right network. The right candidate that can not only defeat the establishment candidate, the folks that people in New York and Washington and the folks that are putting all this money, the tens and millions of dollars into these SuperPACS and all this other money that goes to the establishment candidate because they feel comfortable with the establishment. Well we need something bigger, different.”

He pleaded with the crowd to “go out and start working,” and gave a highly charged pitch to South Carolina voters, telling them it is up to them to “bring us back from the brink” and if they don’t help the former Pennsylvania senator win, then “South Carolina will have let America down.”

“Do not let that happen. There is only one way to not let that happen and that’s to walk out of here and not just say, ‘Oh, I’ll vote for Rick.’ If you do that you have let down your children and your grandchildren because you are not sacrificing your lives, your fortune and your sacred honor,” Santorum said, repeating a line from the Declaration of Independence.

“We are the candidate the conservative movement needs to rally around … coalesce, don’t divide,” he said.

At an afternoon rally at Chiefs Wings and Firewater Restaurant in Greenville, Santorum said he is “starting to make the contrasts that are necessary” with the former Massachusetts governor, adding that he still has “some blood on my sleeve from Mitt Romney,” after some contentious exchanges between the two at this morning’s NBC/Facebook debate.

“We’ve run a positive campaign and we will run a positive campaign, but we are not going to shy away from pointing out the differences. Because you know why? Because Barack Obama is not going to shy away,” Santorum said to the packed house of about 250 people.

“We are going to go out there and talk about why we need a strong conviction and I underscore that, conviction conservative,” he said.

Santorum, accompanied by his wife Karen and son Daniel, said his entire family was in South Carolina including three year old daughter Bella, who has a rare genetic disorder. At the fundraiser, he told the crowd that attack ads were already running in the first in the South state labeling him as not conservative.

“I’ve got to tell you I’ve had to deal with a lot of issues in my life, but I’ve never been accused of not being called a conservative,” Santorum said, before seeming to suggest that Ron Paul was behind the ads.

“Ron Paul has called me a liberal and this comes from a man who is in the Dennis Kucinich wing of the Democratic Party on national security. And the bottom line is I am not a libertarian, I am a conservative. I am a Reagan conservative,” Santorum said. “So you will hear a lot of things that I voted for this and I vote for that against 3,000 or 4,000 vote in the U.S. Senate. OK, I may have made a mistake once or twice.”

He again volunteered, without being prompted, that the No Child Left Behind Act was one of those mistakes.

At Stax Restaurant, where the fundraiser was held, he was endorsed by Christian conservative leader Gary Bauer. Bauer lauded Santorum saying since he worked for Ronald Reagan he “gave up on the idea that I would ever find another Ronald Reagan.”

“Then over the last year or so, I’ve known Sen. Santorum for a while and I’ve liked him, I’ve watched him in the debates. I’ve watched him take a stand on things that other people wouldn’t take a stand on, but over the last year I’ve watched him as he’s gone out among the American people to talk about how to make this country a shining city upon a hill again,” Bauer said. “And suddenly I listened to him and I realized that the next Ronald Reagan was standing in front of me this whole time and I just hadn’t been paying much attention.”

Despite Santorum’s consistent campaign trail comparisons of himself and Reagan he said he “shrink(s) from that to be compared with Ronald Reagan because he was my hero.”

He told reporters after the rally that South Carolina was the place “out of the three early states we thought this was our best chance to win.” He added that he “just found out” that the difference between the vote count in Iowa was down to six from eight.”

“So if we keep that pace, we’ll tie,” Santorum said. “Mitt Romney spent millions of dollars and I spent $30,000 on television. So you do that, you’re winning. You’re winning the hearts and minds of people.”

He didn’t just ask for people to vote for him on Jan. 21 and volunteer for the campaign, he also asked supporters to pray.

“It’s a tough battle every day out there and we need that hedge of protection, so continue to pray for me, for Karen, for our families for all the folks that work for the campaign it’s a tough battle, but with South Carolina how can I fail?” Santorum asked to cheers.

This was the candidate’s 27th campaign trip to the state.

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