Santorum's NH experience different from Iowa

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — The young girl asked Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum his biggest mistake in politics.

"Running for office in the first place," a rabble-rouser in the audience shouted.

Santorum smiled and then quipped: "Until about two weeks ago, a lot of people were saying that."

The one-time long shot candidate who ran his grassroots-focused Iowa campaign on a shoestring nearly beat Mitt Romney in last week's leadoff caucuses. And in subsequent days in New Hampshire, that distinction led to overflow crowds, reportedly booming fundraising and, it seems, a host of new challenges for both the campaign and the candidate.

It's clear that his stripped-down operation — and his skeleton crew of advisers — isn't used to the spotlight or prepared for the newfound interest in their boss as Santorum travels this state ahead of Tuesday's primary.

Just a month ago, Santorum could have counted crowds on both hands as he fastidiously visited each of Iowa's 99 counties — some more than once — in a supporter's truck.

Last week in New Hampshire, a fire marshal interrupted an event in a Keene library because too many people had crowded into the basement to hear him speak. A small meeting in Windham earlier in the week had to be moved to a high school auditorium. The official capacity: 653. People stood in the aisles and packed another room where audio was piped in for those who couldn't fit into a hall.

In Iowa, Santorum's leisurely stops at diners to chat up patrons were a staple of his campaign. In New Hampshire, they're almost a hazard.

A visit to one Manchester eatery moved outside because officials were worried about patrons' safety. Several hundred people stood outside in the cold at sunset and curious voters climbed onto car's trunks to get a better view as the former senator tried to give his standard campaign speech.

Yet, he lacked a microphone and struggled to counter Occupy protesters who have dogged him in recent days.

"I'm from southwest Pennsylvania. I represented a district that had more steel workers than anywhere else. This is cake," Santorum said.

At times, the candidate himself seems to struggle with the demands of being near the top of the pack instead of at the back of it.

His voice has been hoarse, his temper on edge since arriving in New Hampshire.

His acerbic, sarcastic streak has come through when agitated, like during a town hall-style meeting when he mocked regulators by saying: "I'm sure they'll be just delightful and so hospitable to American business."

And his delivery sometimes can wander.

New Hampshire voters, known for their probing questions and scrutiny, have pressed him for policy details.

"This is a really in-the-weeds question," he said at one point. And then he went into the weeds for them.

There are other differences from Iowa to New Hampshire.

He used to spend downtime playing Angry Birds on his iPad. Now, he has a mile-long sheet of donors and conservative leaders to call.

He used to ramble through Iowa in a supporter's vehicle — "Chuck's Truck," they called it. He landed in Manchester on a private jet.

And almost immediately, the scrutiny began from voters and the media alike.

One voter asked Santorum how he could be trusted not to take away their guns, given that he endorsed Arlen Specter, a former senator from Santorum's home state who supported gun restrictions.

Other voters — many supporters of presidential rival Ron Paul of Texas — repeatedly have questioned his claim to be a fiscal conservative, noting that he voted to raise the nation's borrowing limit as a member of the House and Senate.

And shortly after arriving in the state, he went directly from the airport to a television studio to do his first post-Iowa interview — and faced questions on his record and his past statements, including likening same-sex marriage to bestiality.

Tuesday's primary may determine whether Santorum remains in the spotlight or returns to obscurity.

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