ORANGE CITY, Iowa — Rick Santorum knows his audience.

In the basement of a bank in this far-flung northwest Iowa town of about 6,000 people, the former Pennsylvania senator and GOP presidential hopeful delivered a speech heavily laden with religious imagery and marked by the kind of impassioned delivery that has made him an appealing choice among social conservatives in the run-up to the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

“We believe that God created us and gave us dignity because we were made in his image,” Santorum told an attentive, mostly older crowd of more than 200 people. “And he gave us rights because we were made in his image. And our founders believed that with those rights come responsibility, and he laid out that responsibility in this declaration. Most people don’t catch it, but it’s there.”


View Photo Gallery: Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

When the founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence, they listed the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — “not randomly,” Santorum said.

“The rights are ordered rights. Life is the foundational right,” he said to applause. “God gave each of us that right.”

As audience members posed queries on issues from immigration to education to foreign policy, Santorum often parried them by bringing the conversation back to social issues.

“I do not believe life begins at conception,” he said in response to a question unrelated to abortion rights. “I know life begins at conception. It is a knowable, provable fact.”

Several audience members at the event said they remain undecided about who to support in Tuesday’s caucuses, with many torn between Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Don Wielenga, a 73-year-old retiree from Orange City, said he is looking for a candidate who will bring manufacturing jobs back from China.

But his primary concern, he said, is that he wants “somebody who will take out Obama.”

Santorum dwelled little on either electability or economic issues at his event here. He closed by echoing his refrain that the 2012 race is one that will be nothing less than history-altering.

“Someday your children and your grandchildren will ask you what did you do?” he said. “What did you do in 2012 when America’s freedom was at stake? Did you do all that you could do? ... You are the ones to fire the first shot. Do not miss. Do not miss. This country is too important.”