Rick Santorum - Reuters - 5/1/2012
Republican presidential candidate and former Senator Rick Santorum attending a campaign stop in Concord, New Hampshire January 5, 2012. Photo by Reuters
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Natasha Mosgovaya
Photo by Natasha Mosgovaya
Natasha Mosgovaya
Rick Santorum. Photo by Natasha Mosgovaya

On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, which turned former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum into the political Cinderella, his campaign supporters in New Hampshire were ecstatic. Volunteers arrived at the local campaign's headquarters in the wooden building in Bedford, and went to put on dozens of road signs.

"In the morning, six people came in and asked to write a check for the campaign. We didn't see it here before," Bill Cahill, Santorum's New Hampshire campaign co-chair, told Haaretz. "The online fundraising has been fabulous this week. Even if he doesn't win New Hampshire on Tuesday, his message will resonate here and in South Carolina. Reporters will chase him, events will be crowded," Cahill promised, acknowledging, however, that with the newly acquired status, he expects some difficulties.

"He'll definitely get attacked. But Rick's strategy is simple - do not engage in fist fight, talk about issues. We won Iowa - well, won minus 8 votes - without Super-PAC and millions, without trying to drag other people down. We had a great candidate with a great message. He told me, we'll just continue doing what we did, and it will work. And he'll have a great week here in New Hampshire."

Well, depends on what you call great. Chasing candidates on the freezing roads of New Hampshire (local residents tell you to be thankful for the unusual lack of snow), with events beginning as early as 7:30 A.M. and lasting until the late evening - it's inevitable to ask, why are they doing it, especially when the numbers are down, the cash is scarce, and the press mostly ignores you.

According to the Suffolk University poll, Santorum's support in New Hampshire stands at 8% - miles away from Mitt Romney's 41%. "In Iowa, his numbers were low too, but he surged and he came here with this incredible momentum," Cahill said. "The two weekend's debates are crucial, and I am sure he can reach Tuesday's vote in 20-s at least. He has nowhere to go but up!"

So far, besides the attention Santorum got from the press and the packed events, there is no significant "Iowa effect" in polls. Less locals are undecided, but many admit they love "shopping for the best candidate." The distances are short, and if you are curious enough, you can attend several elections events per day - to get to Romney's 7:55 A.M. town hall in Salem, to catch Newt Gingrich touring businesses at the Main street of Littleton, to listen to Santorum addressing gathering in Windham in the evening.

While Romney's town hall event in Manchester kicks off with music - Santorum's event at the Nursing House in Brentwood begins with The Pledge of Allegiance. No rock festival here, and no short answers. Santorum, who didn't quite adjust yet to the attention, persistently provides thorough answers, five, perhaps seven-minutes long. His aides admit they've witnessed him at the events with barely dozen participants, to whom he spoke for an hour and a half, until they ran out of questions. This time, the room is packed, with some people sitting on the stage on which he speaks, and there are more questions - yet he seems determined to answer them all, joking at one point that "we might continue this until breakfast."

But, as Romney's supporter Alice Calvert told Haaretz, "New Hampshire is less conservative than Iowa. I'd be truly surprised if he came anywhere near the same numbers here. Behind Romney are spoilers, that are eliminating each other - yet he prevailed in a more conservative state than New Hampshire, which is a great sign."

The point is Santorum does not want to become another figure in the Republican race musical chairs game. With the evangelical populist Michele Bachmann out of the race, and Governor Perry faltering (yet still running), Santorum may hope to garner more conservative votes.

Bernie Casey (65), recently retired radiologist from Manchester, NH, admits he is a Tea Party supporter ("the Tea party are good people, unlike those Occupy Wall Street troublemakers") - and he hasn't decided yet for whom he will vote on Tuesday. Unlike many who complain that this year's field is weak, he is having a hard time to decide - mainly between Romney and Santorum.

"Ron Paul is a very smart man, but his foreign policy is isolationist", he says. "I went today to Newt Gingrich's event, and he is a brilliant man - but he has those moral issues, cheating on his wives. Of course, it's between him and god, but yet... Jon Huntsman is probably just getting name in this race. I liked Michele Bachmann, she was sincere, but she didn't have organization. Usually I wait until I've seen all the candidates. Last primaries I voted for Mitt Romney - I guess I'll be happy if Romney or Santorum will be the nominee."

And Rick Santorum worked hard to persuade people like Casey, that he is electable.

"People told me Iowa was great, but it won't happen in New Hampshire. And I say, people in New Hampshire are Americans, they believe in the same principles - and president Obama is undermining these beliefs but the narcotics of federal dependency, expanding the federal government", Santorum said, to exclamations of approval from the audience. "Obama said you need a president that you want to believe in. I am here to tell you that you need a president that believes in you."

He asked how many went to see other candidates. Many raise hands.

"That's what you need to do", he said. "You fight to be first. You have the responsibility to lead, not to pay attention to what the polls say - they are worse than weathermen. Don't settle for victory for someone who can be elected but then cannot do", he said, and someone in audience says loudly: "Romneycare!" indicating the former Massachusetts governor's healthcare reform.

"Be bold, it's not the time for us to shrink. It's time for us to have bold contrast, not pale pastels. You may not agree with me on every issue and I suspect you don't - but I agree with me on every issue" (another jab at Romney, who is considered to be flip-flopper by his critics). Don't buy the lie that you have to be moderate to win the election. Reagan won New Hampshire and it made all the difference for this country."

Santorum talked about economy, "culture of dependency" and social security (and even criticized Reagan's policy on social security), admitting that his wife owns more guns than him, and arguing that "there are variety of factors that cause the climate to change."

When asked by a member of the audience whether he'll talk the same way when he'll start receiving money from the corporations, he admitted that "50% of the money we raised until today - we raised today," so he "wasn't really popular with them."

The last question from the audience referred to the possible Israeli attack against Iranian nuclear facilities. Santorum's answer takes over 7 minutes. He talks about his legislation and Israel, and takes on Obama Administration's policy.

"He continually appeased Iran", Santorum accused. "I am glad that he signed some sanctions today. But it is the first time I've seen him doing anything to stand against this regime. Do you know the name of the town where they build this facility? Qom. Qom is a town outside Teheran that has a very special religious meaning to the people of Iran. Qom is the site of the Jamkaran well, that was the residence of the 12-th Imam, the Mahdi, who will return in the time of great chaos to help Islam to conquer and rule the world."

"Ahmadinejad and his buddies come to the well, drop things into the well and ask for guidance of the Mahdi. Every speech Ahmadinejad gives he talks of the Mahdi coming soon, they are paving the way for him to come back. And just so happens they are building a nuclear facility in Qom, and the time the Mahdi comes is a time of great chaos. They are building this nuclear facility, peaceful, of course, according to them, - it happens to be in this very important city, dealing with the end of times in the Shi'ite Islam.... These are folks who are not just going to build it to protect themselves - they are going to build it either to shield themselves while attacking others through terrorism - or use it - and this is a real threat - and I've laid 5-point plan that says: "Iran will not get a nuclear weapon under Rick Santorum's administration. Period," Santorum said.

To the sound of applause, he added: "I will use all means necessary, because if they get nuclear weapon, the world as we know it, will be fundamentally changed. 9/11 will not be once in a decade or more occurrence. It will be life in the Western world with this theocracy with the protection of nuclear weapon."

Bernie Casey said he was impressed.

"What he said about Iran appeals to me. And what he said about Obamacare is true. He is very knowledgeable. He answered in depth and he spoke from the heart. He answered the question about his electability very well. I like him. But I guess I need to sleep on it."