Santorum Revels in Iowa Triumph, Aims to Prove Staying Power

Santorum Revels in Iowa Triumph, Aims to Prove Staying Power

By Scott Conroy - January 4, 2012

JOHNSTON, Iowa -- As votes from a few remaining precincts were still being tallied more than three hours after the Iowa caucuses had closed, Rick Santorum realized that he did not have to wait any longer to declare victory.

Not only that, he didn't even have to say that he won.

"Game on," the former Pennsylvania senator told supporters at his caucus night campaign party as he beamed onstage, flanked by his wife and a half-dozen of his children.

Santorum’s message was clear: whether or not he squeaked out a victory over Mitt Romney, the night would largely belong to him. (And in the end, it was Romney who eked out the win -- by a razor-thin margin of just eight votes, 30,015-30,007.)

Having spent the better part of the last year grinding out an intense schedule of little-noticed speeches to small crowds across Iowa without cracking single digits in the polls, Santorum’s showing here culminated a campaign triumph that appeared inconceivable just days ago.

Santorum appeared emotional as he thanked God, his family and the state of Iowa for lifting his once quixotic candidacy into one that will now share center stage -- at least for the time being.

“People have asked me how I’ve done this sitting back in the polls and not getting a whole lot of attention paid to us,” Santorum said. “We’ve been told by so many people there’s another candidate in this race who is running rather close to me tonight who has a better chance.”

With Rick Perry retreating to Texas to consider ending his presidential bid after a deflating fifth-place finish and Michele Bachmann potentially set to do the same after coming in sixth, Santorum moved immediately to position himself as the most viable remaining conservative alternative to Romney.

In a speech that was light on soaring rhetoric but heavy on emphasizing his humble roots, Santorum laid out his broad vision for the country, as he hopes a broader audience of Republican voters nationwide will begin to tune into his campaign.

“I believe foundationally, while the economy is in horrible condition, while our country is not as safe as it was, and while threats are rising around the world, while the state of our culture under this administration continues to decline with the values that are unlike the values that built this country, that the essential issue in this race is freedom,” he said.

Santorum’s unlikely success in Iowa demonstrated both the importance of peaking at just the right moment and also that old-fashioned retail campaigning did matter in this race after all.

Shortly after 11 p.m., with his lead over Romney standing at just 37 votes, the crowd at Santorum’s caucus night party broke into a spontaneous rendition of “God Bless America.”

Earlier in the evening, as part of a last-minute pitch at one of the four caucus sites he visited in Johnston, Iowa, Santorum trumpeted his bona fides on cultural issues, telling the standing-room-only crowd, “We need a president who shares our values.”

Despite his emphasis on cultural issues, Santorum also previewed a renewed area of focus on jobs, as the campaign shifts to New Hampshire, where he will tout his working-class roots to try to put a dent in Romney’s massive lead there.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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