DES MOINES, Iowa--Rick Santorum may not have won this weekend’s Florida GOP straw poll, but neither did Rick Perry nor Mitt Romney. And that, says the former senator from Pennsylvania, is a positive sign for his candidacy.
Santorum was back in Iowa on Sunday, fresh off a swing through Florida that included another strong debate performance and a surprising fourth-place finish in the straw poll.
“I think what you saw yesterday in Florida is a reflection of what I’m hearing from Iowans and everybody else,” Santorum told the press outside a gun show at the Iowa state fairgrounds. “People are tired of being told that these are the only two candidates they get to choose from, because they’re not particularly happy with either of those two candidates, and they’re looking for somebody else.”
As Perry’s poll numbers continue to drop and as Romney’s difficulty exciting the conservative base remains, Santorum senses an opening, even though he remains near the bottom in recent polls, behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain, who won the Florida straw poll.
“They both have major issues to winning this nomination,” Santorum said of Perry and Romney. “I feel good about the position we’re in right now--slow and steady.”
In his first trip back to Iowa since his fourth-place finish in the state’s straw poll on Aug. 13, Santorum was quick to acknowledge that his campaign is running on a shoestring budget. He compared his low-budget strategy to the famous line from the 1989 film set in the Iowa cornfields, Field of Dreams.
“I really have the Iowa campaign; I mean, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ ” Santorum quipped. “And so I’m doing that. I’m trying to build the organization, I’m trying to build the support on the grassroots, and I’ve not focused on spending a lot of time on raising money. I’ve just got to keep my expenses down, and I’ve just got to be the Energizer Bunny candidate.”
Santorum was well received at the gun show, where he spent almost two hours taking questions and shaking hands. Dave Clark, a Boone, Iowa, resident who has been following the candidates closely, said that the former senator has slowly won him over.
“At the very beginning, I kind of liked Michele Bachmann,” Clark said. “But as time went on, Rick [Santorum] to me has kind of come out a little bit further ahead than the other candidates. “
Perhaps sensing that some of Bachmann’s supporters may be up for grabs, Santorum appeared to take a swipe at the representative from Minnesota when he described to reporters his record in Congress as one of a “conservative bomb thrower” who was also elected to a leadership role.
“So it tells you, not only can I get things done and can I shake things up, but I’ve earned the respect of my colleagues for doing it,” Santorum said. “I wasn’t considered an outcast.”
Bachmann, herself considered a conservative firebrand, has been criticized by some of her congressional colleagues for working only with a small group of like-minded conservatives and, at times, undermining the House Republican message.