Why Santorum Is Slipping In N.H.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum fell eight votes short of defeating former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Iowa last week. But he is nowhere near matching Romney in New Hampshire. A look at why Santorum's surge seems to be skipping New Hampshire — and why it may come back in South Carolina.

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Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum lost to Mitt Romney by just eight votes in the Iowa caucuses, but in New Hampshire, he trails Romney by double digits, locked in a battle for third place with Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman.

NPR's Mara Liasson reports that many voters there don't doubt Santorum's convictions. They're just not sure he can beat President Obama.

RICK SANTORUM: How are you? Thank you very much...

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: One day to go and Rick Santorum is in MaryAnn's Diner in Derry engaging with patrons on everything from chocolate milk to Iran.

SANTORUM: I asked you, would you declare war? You said you (unintelligible). Is the United States allowed to do strikes without declaring war?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah.

LIASSON: At the Lawrence Barn in Hollis, people were literally hanging onto the rafters to hear his pitch, a not-so-subtle attack on Mitt Romney.

SANTORUM: And the decision is going to be basically this: Do we want someone who's going to go and campaign and say, vote for me. I can win? Or do we need someone who says, American stands for something? Those are the choices.

LIASSON: Santorum is known as a culture warrior, but here, he highlights his ethnic blue collar background. He's proposing tax advantages for manufacturing and he's the only Republican candidate talking about social mobility.

SANTORUM: There are countries in Western Europe where you're more able to rise through the ranks of income in Western Europe than you are now here in America. That is not a good thing.

LIASSON: Santorum says he's a full spectrum conservative, but his reputation as a champion of conservative values is what matters most to schoolteacher Cheryl Herney(ph). A Romney voter four years ago, she's switching to Santorum.

CHERYL HERNEY: Because of the things that he stands for, family values, character. He doesn't waiver. He knows the economy. He knows foreign affairs. He knows all of that, but his message about the family ties is what's important.

LIASSON: Compared to Iowa, there are about half as many social issues voters like Herney hear in New Hampshire. Mike Dunbar and his son Mike, Jr., instance, came to Hollis to make sure Santorum wasn't just a family values guy.

MIKE DUNBAR, SR.: I came in not sure. I'm going home sending money.

MIKE DUNBAR, JR.: I wanted to see the whites of his eyes and see if all these principles he really seemed to believe in and I really think he does.

LIASSON: But not everyone was convinced. Sandra Zeen(ph) from Nashua cares about electability.

SANDRA ZEEN: He's one that I'm considering, but I also balance it with who can win, so I'm afraid that people might see Santorum as an extremist, extreme right.

LIASSON: And that's one of the hurdles Santorum has to overcome as he tries to convince Republicans that a conviction politician can win a general election. Here's how he described himself at Saturday night's debate.

(SOUNDBITE OF REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE)

SANTORUM: I think I'm known in this race and I was known in Washington, D.C. as a cause guy. I am a cause guy. I care deeply about this country and about the causes that make me - that I think are at the core of this country.

LIASSON: The question for Santorum in New Hampshire is whether enough voters look at this cause guy and see a plausible presidential nominee or, more immediately, the right conservative to challenge Mitt Romney.

Santorum encountered a new obstacle in that effort today: Newt Gingrich. Just a few days ago, Gingrich said he would be teaming up with Santorum to attack Romney, but today, Gingrich turned on Santorum for supporting a sales tax hike in Pennsylvania 15 years ago and Gingrich pointedly noted, quote, "Santorum's Iowa caucus boost shows signs of fading." That may be true in New Hampshire, but in South Carolina, which votes next Saturday, Santorum has surged into second place.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Manchester.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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