Santorum Met by Large NH Crowds, Not All Supportive

Jan 6, 2012 10:00pm

MANCHESTER, N.H. – GOP contender Rick Santorum, fresh off a second-place victory in Iowa, was met with curiosity and sometimes animosity in New Hampshire Friday, as the former Pennsylvania senator tried to prove he was not a one-note social conservative, but the only candidate capable of taking on Mitt Romney for the nomination.

Rising in the polls here just four days before the first-in-the-nation primary, Santorum was met with large crowds and overwhelmed by a crush of media unseen in the early days of his candidacy, when campaign events were attended by no more than a handful of voters.

With his newfound popularity came newfound scrutiny. Voters here not only challenged him on his principles, but also his record, which includes support of earmarks and questions about his past dealings with lobbyists and campaign contributors.

Rather than the friendly crowds that he regularly found in Iowa, in New Hampshire he was routinely challenged on those issues and the social conservative bona fides on which he is staking his candidacy.

Speaking at a school in Dublin, N.H., Santorum was asked three times about his opposition to same-sex marriage.

“Marriage is not a right,” he said. “Not everybody can marry everybody else. I mean, it’s not an unalienable right. It’s a privilege that is given to society, by society for a reason, because there is an intrinsic benefit to society to hold up men and women to come together, to be encouraged to be married, to get privileges and honor in society, privilege in society.”

When asked about his support of earmarks, an issue on which he was recently attacked by Mitt Romney’s newest surrogate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Santorum defended his record.

“Go ahead, attack me on earmarks,” he said. “I earmarked because I was a senator from Pennsylvania. I represented the interests of the state of Pennsylvania. … The people of Pennsylvania elected me to represent the interests of Pennsylvania, and when they send a whole bunch of money down, the people … wanted to make sure that we were getting an adequate share back.”

Santorum’s staunch opposition to President Obama’s health care initiative was routinely challenged by voters, including by a nurse in Keene, N.H., who asked Santorum what sort of coverage he believed her son, a cancer survivor, should be entitled to.

The woman challenged Santorum for previously saying no one had ever died from a lack of health insurance.

“That was a pretty stupid thing for me to say,” he admitted.

But, he added, the government had no obligation to provide care for the sick and said people all too often flagrantly seek medical care because it “is true a lot of people don’t make good decisions on health care.”

Santorum was met by large crowds at all five of his events today. At an afternoon town hall in Manchester, N.H., the crowd exceeded the capacity for the restaurant in which it was set to be held and was moved to the parking lot.

There, Santorum was met not only with supporters, but protestors associated with the Occupy movement and hecklers intent on interrupting him with comments on his policies – most involving his opposition to gay marriage.

“This is about fundamental freedom,” Santorum said, talking about health care.

“Why won’t you let the gays have freedom,” shouted a protestor.

Santorum joked that the crowd, though tough on him, paled in comparison to the “Pennsylvania steelworkers” he would formerly address in his home state, adding that the absurdity of the crowd — which included one man wearing a large rubber boot on his head — was like a “Fellini film.”

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