WINDHAM — Only two days after a stunning finish in Iowa, presidential hopeful Rick Santorum brought his call for limited government and a return to family values to Windham High School last night.
It's the former Pennsylvania senator's conservative message, integrity and sudden surge in momentum that some New Hampshire voters say will help propel him to the top of the pack in the state's primary Tuesday.
"I think when people hear him and see him, he makes a very good impression," said Judy Bourret, 49, of Pelham. "I'm very hopeful."
Although nearly an hour late, few people if any left as they awaited Santorum's arrival. He gave a 15-minute speech before answering questions from a six-member panel and the audience for an hour and a half.
Santorum touched on everything from the need to restrict the role of government to the need for the United States to stand up to Iran. He also reflected on his close second-place finish in the Iowa caucus, losing to Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by only eight votes.
"We're picking up," Santorum said. "I do feel very well how we are doing here. ... "Eight votes is a pretty big win as far as I'm concerned."
Some of the more than 600 people who packed the school auditorium walked out saying they think his success will continue.
They especially liked his Christian principles, straightforward approach and vow to reform government.
"He's a very strong family values candidate," said Josef Ozer, 47, of Windham. "I like Santorum, I like his momentum."
So does Tom Hitchcock.
The 71-year-old Salem man is still trying to decide who to vote for Tuesday. So is Ozer.
"I still haven't made my choice yet," Hitchcock said. "Santorum is really an upstart. He is a morals man, which I feel is a plus."
It's Santorum's religious values that prompted an interviewer in Boston to tell him yesterday, "We don't need a Jesus candidate, we need an economic candidate."
"My answer to that was we always need a Jesus candidate," he said.
But Santorum told the Windham crowd he doesn't intend on ignoring the economy, either. For most of his appearance, he avoided attacking the other Republican candidates.
Yet he didn't hesitate to criticize President Barack Obama.
"We have serious problems in this country and we have a president who is not up to task," Santorum said. "Pick who you believe is the right person to defeat Barack Obama."
New Hampshire voters have an important role when they cast their ballots Tuesday, he said.
"You have a responsibility to lead this country and make a recommendation to the rest of the country," Santorum said. "Don't defer to pundits."
But not everyone in the audience was from New Hampshire, including Christine Robison.
Robison, 47, drove more than six hours from Syracuse, N.Y., yesterday just to hear Santorum speak.
"I wouldn't miss it," she said. "(I) feel that's the kind of person we need in the White House. To me, character is extremely important."
She also praised Santorum for his intelligence and stances on issues.
"He is a substance person," Robison said.
Santorum's appearance in Windham was sponsored by the Southern New Hampshire 9.12 Project. The organization also helped organize former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's visit to Windham last month, according to group co-founder Ken Eyring.
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