Posted at 01:11 PM ET, 01/09/2012

Rick Santorum declines to hit Mitt Romney on Bain


Republican candidate Rick Santorum speaks at a town hall meeting on the soccer field at Rivier College in Nashua, N.H., on Monday. (Evan Vucci - AP)

SALEM, N.H. — Former Republican senator Rick Santorum, who squeaked to within eight votes of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in last week’s Iowa caucuses, acknowledged Monday that a second-place finish for him in New Hampshire is unlikely.

Polls have shown that the once-surging Santorum is trailing both Romney and Rep. Ron Paul in New Hampshire. Some have shown him behind former Utah governor Jon Huntsman and former House speaker Newt Gingrich as well.

Asked by a reporter whether a second-place finish in New Hampshire would be good enough to maintain momentum leading into the South Carolina primary, Santorum scoffed.

“In my dreams, second place,” he said. “Given the fact that we’re not running any media up here and that we’ve only just spent five days in the last month here campaigning, second place would be a dream come true.”

He said he must “exceed expectations” in New Hampshire.

“A victory for us is coming here to New Hampshire, getting the big crowds that we’re getting, getting the enthusiastic response, keeping this momentum going,” he said. “I think a victory was two good debates, to keep that enthusiasm, to show that we are the strong conservative alternative to Governor Romney and continue to build off that momentum.”

The comments came as Santorum left a 40-minute long town hall held before a small and shivering crowd on the football field of Rivier College in Nashua.

Undeterred by the cold — a car thermometer consulted after the event displayed 27 degrees, a deep cold that left Santorum’s skirt-clad daughter and fleece-covered son huddled together for warmth — the candidate talked at length about his plans to revive the manufacturing sector.

Leaving the frozen event, Santorum also declined to take a shot at Romney over a remark earlier from the front-runner that he “likes to fire” workers who are not doing a good job.

“We try to hire good people, we try to keep them employed. If someone if obviously not performing their duty and their mission, obviously a business has a responsibility for the greater good of the business and the other employees to make sure that everybody there is pulling their weight,” Santorum said.

Asked whether Romney’s corporate takeover experience at Bain Capital would be a liability, Santorum said: “I’m not making it a liability. I believe in the private sector.”

At a later campaign stop at an Elk’s Lodge in Salem, Santorum rejected the idea, posed in a question from a voter, that his outspoken opposition to gay marriage might make him less electable than Romney against Obama.

Santorum’s rising numbers in New Hampshire appear to have begun to stall after he engaged in a back-and-forth with a college student on gay marriage.

“Everyone on the stage yesterday and the day before [at the Republican debates] has pretty much the same position I have on these issues,” Santorum said. “President Obama says he has the same position I have on gay marriage. The only difference between myself and any of them is that when someone asks me a question, I answer it.”

At the Salem event, he also offered one of his most vigorous promises yet to conduct air strikes in Iran if the Islamic nation does not cease work on a nuclear weapon.

He said if sanctions, covert action and support for the Iranian opposition did not lead the nation to cease work on its nuclear program, he would set an ultimatum to require the country’s cooperation.

“Ultimately if none of this is working and we are concerned about this happening, then we set a deadline,” he said. “We say, if you don’t meet that deadline and open up this facility and begin to dismantle it, we will take it out for you.”

“Declare war? No,” he continued. “But to take out, with tactical strikes, the facility.”

By Rosalind Helderman  |  01:11 PM ET, 01/09/2012

 
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