Surging Rick Santorum urges Iowa to send "shock wave"

SIOUX CITY, Iowa Sun Jan 1, 2012 6:55pm EST

1 of 11. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum campaigns at The Daily Grind in Sioux City, Iowa, January 1, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/John Gress

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SIOUX CITY, Iowa (Reuters) - Surging Republican Rick Santorum urged his supporters in Iowa on Sunday to "send a shock wave across this country" by voting for him in Tuesday's first U.S. presidential contest of the 2012 election.

Riding a late burst of support after spending months as an also-ran candidate, the conservative sought to convince undecided voters to back his come-from-nowhere movement in remarks at a coffee shop jammed with Iowans on a windy New Year's Day.

"Lead this country. That's what I ask the people of Iowa. Lead, don't defer," said Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator. "Don't put forward somebody who isn't good enough to do what is necessary to change this country."

If Santorum is to pull off what only days ago seemed like an unlikely victory in Tuesday's caucuses, it will be because he was successful in uniting behind him evangelical supporters who have been split all year between him and rivals Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry.

Local preacher Cary Gordon, who endorsed Santorum recently and has urged Bachmann to give up her campaign, introduced Santorum as a modern-day version of actor Jimmy Stewart in the movie, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" about a concerned citizen who became a politician.

"We found ourselves a Mr. Smith who has proven that he will do the right thing no matter what anybody says. It's called integrity and character and trusthworthiness," Gordon said.

Santorum got a significant boost on Saturday when the Des Moines Register published its influential pre-caucus poll, which showed Santorum had risen to third place behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.

Asked if he thought he could win on Tuesday, Santorum was cautiously optimistic. "I feel good about it, yeah," he told Reuters. He told the crowd, "Please help me out. You will send a shock wave across this country."

SHOESTRING OPERATION

Santorum, who has conducted a shoestring operation with few campaign funds, has campaigned in Iowa the old-fashioned, appearing in town after town and shaking hands, speaking and taking questions.

All told, his appearance on Sunday at the Daily Grind was his 372nd town hall meeting.

Iowa's caucuses will provide momentum for at least three candidates and maybe four, sending them on to the next contests in New Hampshire on January 10 and South Carolina on January 21. Santorum is in a battle for third place with Perry and former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Texas Congressman Ron Paul lead the polls in Iowa.

Santorum held back from strong criticism of his rivals, although he did tweak Perry for his inability to remember all three government departments he would eliminate, a debate gaffe that was a big blow to Perry's campaign.

Santorum, who calls himself a "full-spectrum conservative," appealed not just to evangelicals but those concerned about U.S. debt and deficits.

"Are you going to leave an America that is more and more dependent on bigger and bigger government to do the things that families and churches and local communities used to do? Are you going to leave an America that says America isn't a source of good in the world?" he asked.

An undecided voter, Scott Jenkins, drove 40 miles from his home in Washta to hear Santorum because he was aware Santorum was surging in the polls and cited his Christian values as a possible reason to vote for him.

"It seems like he is rising," said Jenkins.

(Editing by Alistair Bell)

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