After concentrating on Iowa more than any other Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum is gaining on front-runners Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, a new Des Moines Register poll shows. Santorum is hoping to consolidate Iowa's Christian conservative vote — the strategy that won the state for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee four years ago.
Jeanne Zyzda did not expect more than 100 people in her Sioux City coffee shop, the Daily Grind. Not all at once, and not on a holiday.
"Normally, we're not open on New Year's Day," Zyzda says. "Normally, we're not open on Sunday at all."
But Zyzda and her husband are Santorum supporters, so when they got a call from the campaign asking to hold a rally in the restaurant, they obliged. The big turnout was a change for the former Pennsylvania senator, too. He was the first to visit all 99 counties in Iowa. But sometimes he'd stop at places like this and get more suggestions than support.
"I do remember several people coming up to me and giving me pointers on how I could improve my presentation," Santorum chuckles. "Absolutely true, and I gotta tell you, I appreciated that."
Santorum is fond of saying he's a much better candidate thanks to the people of Iowa. Now, he's the candidate with momentum. But his core message is the same.
"Having that strong foundation of the faith and family allows America to be in a position where we can be more free," Santorum says. "We can be free because we are good decent moral people."
For Santorum that means cutting government regulation. Making Americans less dependent on government aid. Fewer people getting food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of federal assistance — especially one group.
"I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money," Santorum begins. "I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money and provide for themselves and their families."
Santorum did not elaborate on why he singled out blacks who rely on federal assistance. The voters here didn't seem to care.
Shelle Baldwin and her husband own a cattle feed lot near Sioux City. She is a longtime Santorum supporter, and she's thrilled he's finally getting the attention she thinks he deserves.
"We always were really hopeful that the country would see that we needed somebody like him, and that really there were people in this country that shared the same beliefs and values that he did," Baldwin says.
Others — like Elizabeth Lee and Lee Ehrhardt — still haven't decided which Christian conservative candidate to vote for.
"I'm leaning toward Santorum going into the caucus Tuesday," Lee says. "We're still kind of leaning toward Bachmann and there's also, is it Perry?"
"I like him, too — those three are about tied," Ehrhardt says.
For Santorum to win the Iowa caucuses or come close, he needs those potential Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry votes. He left Sioux City on Sunday hopeful he will get them.
"Please help us out," Santorum asked. "You will send a shock wave across this country."
Even a third-place finish for Santorum Tuesday would prove his long commitment to Iowa paid off.