Rick Santorum, who catapulted himself into the discussion of top tier GOP candidates with a close second in Iowa, is downplaying his history as a Washington insider on the campaign trail. As Dan Eggen and Carol D. Leonnig reported:

Rick Santorum has vaulted to the front ranks of the Republican presidential nomination race in part by depicting himself as a religious family man of lowly beginnings who would bring needed change to Washington.

But that characterization leaves out two decades in which Santorum was a central and often high-ranking player in Washington politics, with connections to K Street lobbyists and a lucrative consulting career that made him a millionaire.

In the Senate, for example, he played a pivotal role in advancing the controversial K Street Project, a highly organized effort to pressure industry groups and lobbying firms to hire Republicans for influential jobs and punish those who brought in Democrats. ­Santorum oversaw regular Tuesday meetings with lobbyists in which he solicited their views on pending legislation and discussed potential jobs, according to documents and news reports and a lobbyist who attended the meetings.

After losing a reelection bid in 2006, he capitalized on his congressional experience by beginning a profitable career on K Street as an adviser to industry groups and lobbying firms, disclosure records show.

Santorum’s track record as a longtime Capitol Hill insider is likely to pose a political challenge in the weeks ahead, in part because it undermines his self-portrayal as a reform-minded champion of fiscal conservatism. After spending months languishing in obscurity in the presidential race, he finished just eight votes behind former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in Iowa’s caucuses on Tuesday and immediately faced allegations that he had backed wasteful spending and special interests.

Hogan Gidley, Santorum’s national communications director, said Thursday that “these kinds of attacks are just what D.C. insiders and elitists do when a guy like Rick Santorum works hard to provide for his family and has success.”

Santorum faced some tough questions at a campaign stop in New Hampshire on his opposition to gay marriage, one of many conservative stances which endears Santorum to parts of the Republican base. As Sandhya Somashekhar explained:

Rick Santorum took on a restive audience Thursday night over the issue of same-sex marriage, which the former Pennsylvania senator vociferously opposes.

Asked by a college student why he opposed the right of same-sex couples to wed, he responded that there was no compelling reason to allow it and suggested that it was akin to legalizing polygamy.

“So, everybody has the right to be happy?” he said. “So, if you’re not happy unless you’re married to five other people, is that OK?”

Santorum’s logic provoked an outcry from the audience, which was made up primarily of local college students but also a number of local conservative voters who were there to support the surging presidential candidate.

It was the first such confrontation over Santorum’s well-documented opposition to gay rights and gay marriage since his surprisingly strong finish in the Iowa caucuses, but it probably won’t be the last. New Hampshire has allowed same-sex marriage since 2010, and voters who were unaware of Santorum’s stance on the issues are likely to hear a great deal about them now that he is emerging as the Christian conservative standard-bearer in the race.

The grilling began almost immediately after Santorum concluded his opening remarks at an event sponsored by the New England College. Student after student challenged him on his stance, especially in light of his earlier remarks about the founding principle that all men were created equal.

Reports emerged of possible tallying errors in the Iowa caucuses, in which Santorum lost to rival Mitt Romney by eight votes. But Santorum brushed off the reports and declared the results basically a tie. As AP reported:

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum shrugged off reports late Thursday that the vote count from Iowa’s caucuses might be wrong, saying the errors appear not to change the fact that he and Mitt Romney were nearly tied.

Santorum told Fox News that Iowa’s Republican Party chairman, Matt Strawn, informed him of two cases in which errors were reported in the count from Tuesday night. Taken together, Santorum said, the changes would almost cancel out each other and that Romney would win by nine votes instead of eight.

“That doesn’t really matter to me,” he said. “This was a tie.”

Strawn said in a statement that party officials would not respond to “every rumor, innuendo or allegation” as it certifies results during a two-week certification process. Romney and Santorum each had just over 30,000 votes out of more than 122,000 votes cast.

Strawn said state party officials had been in contact with GOP officials in Appanoose County but that officials “do not have any reason to believe the final, certified results of Appanoose County will change the outcome of Tuesday’s vote.”

Des Moines TV station KCCI reported that a Ron Paul backer attending his first precinct caucuses in Appanoose County, in southern Iowa, said the vote from his precinct was inaccurately reported and gave Romney 20 more votes than he actually received.

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