HOLLIS, N.H. – Rick Santorum may be more of a “full spectrum” conservative than he’d imagined.


Former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). (REUTERS/Eric Thayer)

But as he left the last event in a six-stop campaign blitz in the Granite State Saturday – a meet-and-greet with patrons at a pharmacy and general store in this small town 20 miles south of Manchester – it became clear that the higher Santorum’s profile becomes, the stronger the reaction he receives from all sides.

In terms of players on the national stage, that point was borne out Saturday when former presidential candidate and Christian conservative leader Gary Bauer announced his endorsement of Santorum over others in the field seeking the social conservatives vote, including former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

And in the polls, Santorum appears to be steadily building on his support among Granite State voters.

But the broad spectrum of views on Santorum was particularly clear among those who came to see the former senator here late Saturday afternoon.

Rod Olsen, a 42-year-old stay-at-home dad, was volunteering for Santorum at the event – a position in which he didn’t expect to find himself earlier this week.

“Tuesday of the Iowa caucus, I was actually coming out here to work for Mitt Romney’s campaign,” said Olsen, of Modesto, Calif. “Trip was already booked. And he got up to give his speech – Rick – and he quoted C.S. Lewis. He looked at his wife, he thanked her, and then he thanked God.”

“I turned to my wife immediately and said, ‘You know, that’s a candidate I can support,’” Olsen continued. “Slept on it. On the way to the airport, called the campaign headquarters, said, ‘Look, I’m coming out. I’d like to volunteer. Can you put me to work?’ And they said, ‘Yep.’”

“And so, here I am,” he said.

Olsen, who said that he’d had the chance to talk one-on-one with Santorum Saturday morning over breakfast, noted that while he’s not able to vote in Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation contest, he’s eager to work the campaign trail for a candidate he believes in.

“People in New Hampshire have a special – this event is unlike any others in the entire country, because everyone’s involved; everyone cares,” he said. “You go to California, we’re so late in the process that the decision is typically already made. I can’t vote here, but I can have an impact by helping who I think has a good chance.”

On the other end of the spectrum were Meredith Sidoti, an auto-worker from Rhode Island, and Rick Dodge, who is from Amherst, Mass., and is self-employed.

Both said that they drove to the Granite State to see Santorum in person, even though they strongly oppose the senator’s bid.

Sidoti, 41 and a registered Democrat, said that she is “obviously not a fan of the senator” and particularly disagrees with him on social issues.

Dodge, who is 55 and was holding a handmade sign criticizing the senator’s opposition to same-sex marriage, said that Santorum “brings out the best in gay people.”

“It kind of hits that raw nerve,” he said. “So, when he gets going on his stump speech, you know, it’s really negative, and it’s not so great. He’s not going to win in New Hampshire so it’s kind of like, he’s just really priming the pump for South Carolina, I think.”

As at campaign events for former Utah governor Jon Huntsman and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney earlier in the day, many of those in the crowd for Santorum’s meet-and-greet had come from out-of-state – a sign that the GOP race is drawing the attention of voters far beyond the Granite State, even though the contest is not expected to be as close a race as were Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses last week.

Two members of Saturday’s crowd who did hail from New Hampshire were Jack McCarthy, 81, and Harry Haytayan, 52. Both residents of Hollis (“I live right around the corner in the best barn in New England,” McCarthy said), the two Granite State Republicans said that they remained largely undecided in the GOP race – but that they were not planning to vote for Santorum on Tuesday.

“He’s too religious for me,” said McCarthy, a retiree.

Haytayan, an attorney, said that he disagrees with Santorum on social issues.

“I don’t think public policy ought to deal with privacy issues,” he said. “Absolutely not.”

“Or the church,” added McCarthy.

“The church, nothing,” Haytayan said. “To talk about stuff like that, even if you believe it, it doesn’t belong in the public discourse. I respect someone’s right to believe it, but it does not belong in politics.”

Haytayan, who used to serve in the New Hampshire state legislature and hosted a house party in 2008 for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s presidential bid, said that at this point, his choice on Tuesday would “probably be Gingrich.”

“Is that right?” McCarthy said.

“Yeah. For the one reason – to be candid with you – I think he talks more about substantive issues, and he knows his stuff,” Haytayan said. “And he strikes me as someone who thinks everything through. Too many of the rest of them sound like talking points. ... The guy, at least he knows the policy. That’s refreshing.”

McCarthy, who noted that he’s “never missed a vote” since he was first eligible to cast a ballot, said that he’s leaning “80-20” toward Romney, primarily because of his business acumen.

“I think he’s a gentleman; I think he’s a good businessman; he knows where the dollars are,” McCarthy said. “I think he’s way ahead of them as far as business goes and as far as the economy goes, but that’s all that matters, it seems. And as far as keeping the peace – I think he’d know how to handle situations in Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan, and every other one.”

Fresh off his Iowa win, Santorum is continuing to emphasize his stance on social issues as he hits the campaign trail in New Hampshire. The question: Might his social conservative views resonate with some of New Hampshire’s GOP primary voters?

Haytayan and McCarthy said they believe it would be only a small slice of the primary day electorate.

“And probably those are people who would vote for him anyway, so I don’t know why he’s talking about it,” Haytayan said. “He’s getting some very bad advice. But who am I to say?...He must be doing something right.

“But in New Hampshire, I can tell you, guys like Jack and I – and we’re Republicans – and that’s a huge turnoff.”