Rick Santorum could barely inch his way through Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry, N.H., on Monday, but not because of eager voters. In fact, patrons looked startled as the former Pennsylvania senator moved in a crush of media from table to table.
Finally, he was forced to lead the pack outside, where Ron Paul’s supporters started taunting: “All media, no voters.”
As it came down to the wire Monday, Rick Santorum—who was little known here a few weeks ago—was trying to finish the week the way he started it: with intense energy and momentum from his near-win in the Iowa caucuses. But even he seemed to know that finishing near the top in New Hampshire was a long shot.
He spent the day reiterating his pitch that he’s a conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, telling reporters that it would be a “dream come true” if he could land second place, as he did in Iowa. But it was becoming clear throughout the day that it was unlikely that would happen. The overflow crowds were thinning out—and he was becoming less of a novelty. Some of the interest has shifted to Jon Huntsman.
Mitt Romney is far ahead of his rivals, favored by 40 percent, with Ron Paul 20 points behind.
Santorum advisers say second place is still possible, though political experts are skeptical. Bill Cahill, the former senator’s state co-chair, noted that Santorum went from 3 percent in the polls to 11 to 13 percent “without the benefit” of any paid advertising during a period when Romney, Paul, and Huntsman were all running ads.
Andy Smith, director of polling for the University of New Hampshire, said Santorum was always going to find the state a tough audience because of his ultraconservative views on social issues.
By Monday, however, Santorum had learned to deflect questions on hot-button social issues rather than spar with potential voters. When queried again about his opposition to gay marriage in Salem, he noted that neither President Obama nor his opponents support gay marriage. “The only difference between myself and any of them is, when someone asks me a question I answer them,” he said.
Santorum relentlessly canvassed the state all week, keeping the longest and toughest schedules of any of the candidates. On Monday, his first event was at 9 a.m., and his last at 9 p.m.
At the diner, he was asked if he thought Romney is a conservative. “I think he is on some issues, but we are looking for someone who can make a strong contrast, not someone who is maybe good on one or two issues.”
“This fellow seems real—no airs about him,” said Ken Hepworth, who was hoping Santorum would stop by his table. “I think what he’s says, he’ll do.” But that doesn’t mean Santorum has his vote. The retired engineer had it narrowed down to four choices. He said he still had some more research to do.