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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Rick Santorum makes a point at his morning campaign stop at Rivier College in Nashua Monday, January9, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Rick Santorum arrives at his morning campaign stop at Rivier College in Nashua Monday, January 9, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Rick Santorum's morning campaign stop January 9, 2012 was at an athletic field at Rivier College in Nashua.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Part of the group that turned out for Santorum at Rivier Monday, January 9, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    A woman, who did not give her name, covers up against the cold at Rick Santorum's event Monday, January 9, 2012, at Rivier College in Nashua.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cold temperatures draw smaller crowd Monday at Santorum event

NASHUA – Temperatures dipped to a balmy 22 degrees when presidential hopeful Rick Santorum arrived Monday at Rivier College, and as the winds whipped, some of the heat left the candidate’s once-surging campaign.

The crowds of hundreds and throngs of media that followed the former Pennsylvania senator over the weekend largely disappeared Monday morning as Santorum addressed a smaller audience at the Nashua college.

He had surged last week, rising to third place in some state polls and drawing large crowds throughout the area after his razor-thin second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. But one day before the New Hampshire primary, Santorum drew a smaller and largely silent crowd of about 80 Monday on the college athletic fields.

“I know applauding with gloves on isn’t typically very effective. You can dispense with the muted applause,” Santorum said with a laugh as the crowd suffered through temperatures in the 20s.

Event organizers originally planned to hold the event indoors, but at the request of the Santorum campaign, they moved it outside Sunday night.

“We might have had a thousand people,” Paul Thoman, a supporter from Nashua, speculated. “Who knows?”

In the days after the Iowa caucuses, Santorum, who finished eight votes behind GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, jumped as high as third place in some state polls.

He spoke locally in Amherst and Hollis over the weekend, drawing hundreds of cheering voters and hordes of local and national press. But by the end of the weekend, Santorum saw his poll numbers leveling.

According to a Suffolk University daily tracking poll, Santorum reached 10 percent of voters surveyed Monday, down from 11 percent earlier in the month. This drop left him fifth among the Republican candidates, according to the poll. But it did not temper his expectations heading into Tuesday’s primary.

“We expect to do very well here and surprise folks at the finish. We’re going to continue to work hard through New Hampshire and on because we have a strong message,” Santorum said Monday.

“He’s doing well. I think he’ll do better than people think,” added Cindy Rogers, a Hollis voter who has not yet settled on a candidate. “He seems very sincere.”

While Santorum has dropped slightly in the Suffolk polls, Romney has suffered more serious losses, according to the Suffolk poll. He still maintains a 13-point lead, but since last week’s caucuses, Romney has dropped 10 points to 33 percent.

Over the weekend, Santorum repeatedly attacked Romney, claiming that the former Massachusetts governor doesn’t represent the dramatic change the country needs. But on Monday, he slowed his attacks. He hardly mentioned Romney by name, focusing his speech instead on his tax plan, which would rewrite existing the tax code, implementing five separate deductions and eliminate corporate taxes on manufacturers.

“I believe in growth. I believe you get growth through lower rates and tax simplification,” Santorum said. “The problem in this country is we have to get businesses growing.”

That Santorum focused his talk on taxes is not surprising, according to area political analysts. Coming out of Iowa, Santorum’s stances on gay marriage and other social issues, have not carried as far in the Granite State, and taxes are a much more central issue to local voters, said Dante Scala, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire.

“He hasn’t been talking about issues that are a priority for the mainstream Republican voter in New Hampshire,” Scala said. “Taxes, that’s a bread-and-butter issue for them. He’s trying to go with a safe message.”

But with one day remaining until the primary, some voters wondered if Santorum’s efforts are too little too late.

“I’m afraid he may have got in a little too late here. That might hurt him,” said Jack Sullivan, a Nashua voter who wasn’t settled on a candidate. “If he finishes in second here, that’ll give him a lot of momentum,” added John Leahy, of Nashua. “But it’s a tight race. We’ll have to see what happens.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or