The Washington Times - December 29, 2011, 02:39AM

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum appears to be keeping to his promise, because Iowa voters seem to be catching fire for him as the the Iowa caucuses gets closer. Many Republican voters have dismissed this presidential candidate who has been placed on the wing tips of the numerous GOP debate stages and struggled to get time to make his remarks among his opponents in front of Republican voters.

Many attribute Santorum’s rise to the upper tier in the Iowa polls to former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s fading popularity along with further examination of Congressman Ron Paul’s foreign policy background. More importantly, political observers will point to Santorum’s relentless campaigning in Iowa for the past year. He has moved his entire family into the state while meeting residents of Iowa in all 99 counties.

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He has received the endorsement of Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats and Iowa Secretary of State Mat Strawn. Although Mr. Santorum did not get an endorsement from the likes of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, she did send compliments his way this past month during a Fox News interview. 

I initially spoke with Mr. Santorum back in February when he first considered running for the White House. He stressed the importance of impressing voters in the early primary and caucus states and from the impression he was given, voters liked his message.

“What I gotta do is go out and talk about my record. The conservatives look at my record and what I did in the United States Senate…the positions I took…the arrows I took on the conservative front,” he said.

Indeed. Sen. Santorum seems attracted to putting himself in the lion’s den. He was berated by university students on a campaign stop at Cornell College in Mount Veron, Iowa who insisted on debating him on gay marriage, oil and alternative energy resources, and entitlements. 

When I asked Sen. Santorum early on if he was concerned that conservatives may still take issue with him over his past support for then Republican and former Senator Arlen Specter over then Congressman (now Senator) Pat Toomey, in 2004, Santorum responded that he later supported Toomey in 2010, when then Rep. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, ran for the Senate a second time.

“I supported Pat. I did fundraising for him. I came out as much as I could and I’m very excited that he’s there,” Santorum said.

Although, Congresswoman Michele Bachman, Minnesota Republican, won the Iowa straw poll back in August, Santorum placed a competitive 4th among the ten candidates who Iowa Republicans came out to vote for in Des Moines this summer.

However, Mr. Santorum’s strong finish (he received about 200 more votes than Herman Cain) at the straw poll was overshadowed by Ron Paul’s second place finish, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s announcement he was dropping out of the race, and Texas Governor Rick Perry’s announcement he was entering the race.

Frustrated that Mr. Perry was stealing much of the spotlight after the Iowa Straw poll results were announced, Santorum told reporters (Water Cooler Blog 8/13/11): “He’s the Governor of Texas. You know, the Governor of Texas has unlimited resources down there in Texas and you guys are going to write a lot about it.”

He added, “I’m the little engine that could candidate and Rick Perry is just another shiny engine. ‘Rick Perry is a great guy’ and everybody is oohing and ahhing and everybody is….’This is a wonderful candidate.’ We’re just chugging along.”

I wrote in an August 15 blog post that Santorum, despite the fanfare surrounding Perry and Bachman back in August, made sure the press knew he was around at an Iowa event with both the Texas Republican and the Iowa straw poll Winner Bachmann in Waterloo.

I wondered if, his campaign could be a political thorn for future front-runners. Today, Santorum, Bachmann, and Perry are in different but similar circumstances. While they are fighting for the same evangelical support in state, Bachmann is no longer considered to be a candidate with as much momentum as she had in August and Rick Perry’s popularity has fallen dramatically in Iowa forcing his campaign to reboot itself. In the meantime, Santorum, who was marginalized by not only the media but also other campaigns, continued his long slog all over the state of Iowa.

Even if the Pennsylvania Republican finishes in the top tier in the Iowa caucuses, will that be enough to propel him through New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida? Santorum thinks so. He told a group of reporters in Iowa two weeks ago, after I asked him how he plans to do this, he believes that the momentum he will get from Iowa will make him competitive in states like New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida.

However, he also recently said that he plans to drop out of the race if he comes in dead last at the Iowa caucuses. At the moment, it looks as if Rick Santorum will be sticking around for at least a little bit longer.