Posted at 04:09 PM ET, 12/31/2011

Santorum draws voters, media in small-town Iowa

INDIANOLA — Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told a group of Iowa voters at a small local library Saturday afternoon that they should ignore pundits who have long predicted he cannot win and instead vote their conscience.

“Don’t pay attention to what the national pundits are saying, as to who you need to vote for in order to win the race,” he said. “I understand they’re all saying who can win and can not. Trust your own heart. Trust your head. Trust your gut. And vote for who you think is best.”

“You know these candidates now better than the pundits who basically talk to themselves in Washington and New York. They’re not out here listening to the candidates,” he said to a group of about 50 voters.

In a sign that Santorum’s uptick in recent Iowa polls has now made him the state’s hottest political story, the small crowd at the meet-and-greet was mobbed by a roughly equal number of the national reporters whom Santorum has been begging for months to pay attention to his campaign.

Included in the small-town crowd were MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who taped an interview with the surging candidate amid the bookshelves before he addressed the crowd, and several well-known columnists.

“Trust your judgement and lead,” he said, urging the group to avoid a “Pyrrhic victory” that would come from voting for a candidate who seemed electable, only to find he or she would not provide the conservative change Santorum said Washington needs.

“If you do,” he said, “you’ll change the tenor of this race.”

The campaign has appeared gleeful about, if a little taken aback by, the sudden interest. When reporters arrived at the Indianola library, they were first kept outside the small meeting room where Santorum spoke: The campaign had not yet paid the $25 fee for use of the room.

When his staffers arrived, one quickly laid down five $5 bills in cash.

“Do we need to pay more because…?” one asked, referring to the unexpectedly large size of the media crowd. The library worker said there would be no fee for an extra room opened to accommodate the crowd. Even so, the staffers added a sixth $5 bill to the pile for good measure.

Santorum’s message appeared to intrigue Marty Brauch, a resident of nearby Waukee, who had brought his daughter to hear Santorum. But Brauch said he left still undecided, weighing whether to back Mitt Romney.

“He seems genuine,” Brauch said of Santorum. But he said that he knows a lot more about Romney, from television ads and Romney’s 2008 campaign and that he might be leaning in that direction. “It seems like’s been through the grill already. He’s got that going for him.”

But retired teacher Karen Dyer, 70, said she’d ruled out Romney — “too flippant” — and was leaning toward Santorum. “He seems like he stand for good moral standards,” she said. “He seems positive — and determined.”

“I just want to vote for the right person,” she said. “I’m asking God to guide me. And anyone else.”

Santorum was introduced by Sioux City conservative talk-show host Sam Clovis, who endorsed him earlier this month and said he’s noticed a distinct pick-up of interest in Santorum among callers to his show in recent days.

“For all of you who thought you drew the short straw covering Rick Santorum,” Clovis said before the assembled cameras, “you’re about to get a promotion Tuesday night.”

By  |  04:09 PM ET, 12/31/2011

 
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