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Video: Santorum: I can attract independents, Dems

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updated 12/29/2011 9:22:47 AM ET 2011-12-29T14:22:47

After watching the likes of Rick Perry, Herman Cain and lately, Newt Gingrich emerge as challengers to front-runner Mitt Romney during the long road to the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum told TODAY Thursday his own sudden surge has legs that the other candidates haven’t shown.

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In a surprise, former also-ran Santorum has climbed ahead of Gingrich to move into third place in a new CNN/Time/ORC poll for GOP Iowa caucus participants, behind Romney and Ron Paul.  Speaking with TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie, Santorum said he believes his previous runs for office in Pennsylvania — including a 1990 Congressional campaign and a 1994 Senate campaign in which he defeated incumbent Democrats — shows he can come up big in November.

Romney tops field in Iowa while Gingrich slides

“I’m the only one in this race that has a track record of winning elections in tough states,” Santorum said from Coralville, Iowa, in advance of Tuesday’s caucuses. “I have to think that’s one of the reasons that people in Iowa are looking at us and saying, ‘Wow, this guy has defeated, straight up, two Democratic incumbents in very tough districts and in a very tough state.’ ”

Video: Santorum: I can attract independents, Dems (on this page)

Social issues
Still, Santorum’s surge could be short-lived. While polls show Santorum trailing Romney by 9 percentage points in Iowa — and just six points behind Paul — the polling numbers for the upcoming New Hampshire primary are less rosy for him. The poll shows Romney leading with 44 percent among likely GOP voters, while Santorum lags in fifth place with 4 percent.

Guthrie asked Santorum if his ardent social views, including his pro-life stance and his objections to contraception, may play well in socially conservative Iowa, but less so in a moderate Republican state like New Hampshire.

Santorum was quick to separate the two issues: “My views on contraception are consistent with my Catholic faith,” he said. “But as a person who was involved in the United States Senate for 12 years, I voted to allow contraceptive funding.

First Read: Will Santorum surge in Iowa be short-lived?

“That’s a fundamentally different thing than taking a human life. (Contraception is) something I don’t believe is right, but there’s a lot of things I don’t believe are right that the government shouldn’t be outlawing. Those are moral decisions that fall outside the law.”

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Santorum was clearly upbeat in light of the polling news in Iowa, laughing when Guthrie asked him if he was the only person who believed he could make a comeback in the Republican presidential nomination race.

Bachmann’s Iowa co-chairman bolts to Ron Paul

“No, my wife did too, not just me,” he said.

Santorum, 53, added that he believes his candidacy has staying power, in contrast to other alternatives to the well-financed Romney who have seen their polls ebb.

Video: Gingrich: I’m the Reagan in this race (on this page)

“I’ve been through this grind before,” he told Guthrie. “I’ve run several tough statewide elections with national implications and have had the national media crawling all over my record for years and years and years.

“This has been different than everyone else that’s sort of risen in this race, that they haven’t been tested and we have. People know there’s authenticity here, and they can trust me in what I say (is what) I’m going to do.”  

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