LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Romney's principle challenger right now is a candidate who generates strong opinions among voters. Just yesterday, Rick Santorum's campaign said he'd collected $2 million in donations. The money flowed in after Santorum soared within a few votes of winning Iowa.

Also yesterday, Santorum spoke with college students in New Hampshire and was booed by students who disagreed with his opposition to gay marriage.

NPR's Jeff Brady profiles the former senator's political life.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: It can seem like there are two Rick Santorums: the pleasant guy who stands ready to help, and the aggressive culture warrior. The former was on display when he interrupted his presidential campaign announcement last June after a woman in the audience fainted.

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RICK SANTORUM: Sorry, we have someone who's - I think the heat has got to them. So make sure if there's any emergency personnel that can get here.

BRADY: Santorum stepped down from the stage and offered cold water as several men carried the woman off.

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SANTORUM: Appreciate it if everybody would just say a little prayer for that young lady.

BRADY: Santorum is a Roman Catholic, and his faith also inspires the culture warrior in him. Even when he talks about economic policies, his arguments take on a broader moral tone. Just yesterday, he was at a town hall in Northfield, New Hampshire. He used the language of drug addiction to describe his belief that Democrats want to hook voters on entitlement programs.

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SANTORUM: That's how they see you. That's how they see you, as people to hook, as people to become dependent on them.

BRADY: Over the years, Santorum has inspired near-hatred among some of his opponents. His strong views against abortion rights led Julia Ramsey to campaign for his opponent in the 2006 Senate race. Now, Ramsey heads the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Organization for Women. When it comes to Santorum, she doesn't even try to be diplomatic.

JULIA RAMSEY: I don't even think that he's probably a nice guy who does not share the same political ideology as me. I don't like him.

BRADY: Santorum has managed to offend entire groups of people, not just with his views, but comments expressing those views. In a 2003 interview with the Associated Press, he compared homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia. In that same interview, he blamed the priest sex abuse scandal on moral relativism. Santorum has even taken to task the country's only Catholic president. At a New Hampshire college in October, Santorum commented on John F. Kennedy's famous 1960 speech on the separation of church and state.

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SANTORUM: I had an opportunity to read the speech, and I almost threw up. In my opinion, it was the beginning of the secular movement of politicians to separate their faith from the public square. And he threw faith under the bus in that speech.

BRADY: Santorum's reputation as a culture warrior developed over time. Back in the 1970s, as a college Republican, he was more interested in the game of politics. Then in the early '80s, he was known as a capable legislative aide to a Pennsylvania state senator. In 1990, at 32 years old, Santorum successfully campaigned to unseat a veteran Democratic congressman. But even then, gay rights and abortion were not big issues in the campaign. Four years later, Santorum shocked the political establishment again by winning a U.S. Senate seat.

CHRIS BORICK: You know, one of Rick Santorum's secrets to success is simply a dogged work ethic.

BRADY: Muhlenberg College political scientist Chris Borick says when it comes to campaigning, Santorum is a master at the style of one-on-one politics required in places like Iowa and New Hampshire. As a U.S. senator, Borick says Santorum rose to leadership over two terms, becoming the third-ranking Republican.

BORICK: As he emerged as a national figure, it was the cultural matters that came to define him and really create a world where you either loved or hated Rick Santorum.

BRADY: By 2006, a majority of Pennsylvania voters decided they'd had enough. In a bad year for Republicans, Santorum's defeat was still notable. He lost by more than 17 points. Borick says for most politicians, that would have been the end of their political career. But five years later, Santorum is back and still surprising people with his success. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia.

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