Santorum Receives Warm Welcome at Iowa State Fair

Santorum keeps presidential options alive with Iowa visit.

This May 3, 2013, photo shows former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., speaking during the leadership forum at the National Rifle Association's annual convention in Houston. Santorum is in Iowa presently and has received a warm welcome.

This May 3, 2013, photo shows former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., speaking during the leadership forum at the National Rifle Association's annual convention in Houston. Santorum is in Iowa presently and has received a warm welcome.

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DES MOINES, Iowa – Rick Santorum says more people have recognized him in one hour at the Iowa State Fair than the number of people he would meet in a whole day two years ago when he was stumping as a Republican presidential nominee.

The failed 2012 GOP candidate and former Pennsylvania senator squeaked out a victory during the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses over his party rivals, but was outgunned by eventual nominee Mitt Romney after the monthslong nomination slog.

[READ: Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum Make Rounds with Conservatives in Iowa]

Speaking to reporters Friday inside an Iowa convention hall, Santorum says he pegged his visit to the Family Leadership Summit, a conservative conference scheduled for the weekend, and came to the fair to "get a little hit of Iowa, which is a great buzz for me."

"People have been very encouraging," he said, but played coy about his 2016 ambitions.

"It's nice, but I think it just shows that we made a connection here that was real and it was certainly real for me," Santorum said. "I'm just glad that other people felt that way and at this point that's all it is."

That may come as a disappointment for many fairgoers, some of whom went out of their way to encourage another Santorum bid.

"I'll be there if you are," shouted one passer-by.

[READ: 'Madam President' Effort Kicks Off in Iowa]

Jeanne Wonio of Davenport says she remembers meeting Santorum several times a couple years ago.

"Two of my neighbors absolutely loved him so I met him personally at their homes, at least two times," she says. "So he was very accessible and we had plenty to talk about. Of course we backed his pro-life views 100 percent."

Wonio named Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., her second choice, but says she hopes Santorum runs.

"If he came back he would be my guy," she says.

Pattie Brown of Des Moines, a volunteer with Santorum-associated conservative grassroots group called Patriot Voices, says she is pleasantly surprised with the reception for Santorum.

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"I'm delighted with how many people say, 'He had me at hello,'" she says. "I think he's got name and face recognition, people know him all over."

Not everyone effused support, however, as one woman uttered "loser" under her breath as she walked by the former candidate.

But with a trail of reporters and television crews trailing after him, the plaid shirt and blue jeans clad Santorum wandered out into the fairgrounds, obviously enjoying the scene and the attention.

He's scheduled to address conservatives gathered in Ames at the Family Leadership-sponsored event Saturday, alongside at least one other potential 2016 rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

 

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