After Iowa, now the tough part for Republican Santorum

JOHNSTON, Iowa Wed Jan 4, 2012 7:43am EST

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JOHNSTON, Iowa (Reuters) - Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum scored a major victory by taking Iowa's Republican nominating contest right down to the wire on Tuesday. Now all he needs are money, staff, and infrastructure to keep his momentum going.

Santorum came in only 8 votes behind former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is considered the national front-runner.

Santorum's success, after months of trailing badly in the polls, resulted from a dogged strategy of visiting each of the state's 99 counties and engaging in the traditional retail politics that Iowans love.

"Game on!" Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, said late on Tuesday at his victory party, where supporters sang "Amazing Grace" and chanted "We Pick Rick."

To ensure that voters in other states pick him too, Santorum has a lot of ground to make up. His lack of organization outside of Iowa may make it hard to capitalize on his strong showing in the first nominating vote.

"On the one hand, it's a tribute to old fashioned politics," said Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor at Hunter College in New York.

"He can't replicate it in any other state because there's no state that he can spend a year in between now and election day."

As the laggard in the race, Santorum received little media attention and often complained about not being asked questions on stage at Republican debates. Now that he is in the top tier, the former lawmaker will come under increased scrutiny.

Rivals have already begun to highlight what they say was his record as a backer of big government spending in the Senate and his endorsement of Romney in the 2008 Republican race.

Those arguments will take center stage in New Hampshire, the next state to hold a nominating contest, as Santorum seeks to become the main alternative to Romney, around whom conservatives have failed to coalesce.

Supporters said his "family values" message and down-to-earth personality would catch on after his come-from-behind win.

"He didn't have any money, he didn't have that financial support, and yet he's been up against a person who had, you know, millions and millions of dollars, and yet he's come out on top," said Nina Swan-Kohler, 59.

"That's truly the American Dream."

Santorum languished in Iowa polls for months, getting his first bump a week ago as voters moved away from conservatives Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann.

CAMPAIGNING BEYOND IOWA

Santorum succeeded with small events in towns across the state. Instead of riding in a huge bus like his rivals, he tooled around Iowa in a large Ram pickup truck known as the "Chuck Truck" because it was driven by his aide, Chuck Laudner.

"He has done all this completely on his own," said Charlie Black, a former adviser to 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain who now supports Romney.

"The question is, now that he's in the top two in Iowa ... going forward, does he have a campaign underneath him? And the answer is unfortunately, no."

Santorum tried to dispute the impression that his operation had been solely focused on one state. He said he had participated in more events in New Hampshire than most of his rivals. "I've been to New Hampshire 30 times," he told the Iowa crowd.

Watching coverage of the Iowa caucuses at his Bedford, New Hampshire, headquarters, supporter Marcia Kostoulakos said: "It's great momentum because people are assuming we don't have a team here. We have had a team here for a long time ready and waiting for this moment to challenge Romney."

Santorum is also planning to buy ads in South Carolina where he has a good chance to pick up the strong evangelical Christian vote.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland; editing by Alistair Bell and Mohammad Zargham)

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