URBANDALE, Iowa — Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum declared that his strong Iowa showing means it's "game on" for the party's presidential nomination and that he's heading to New Hampshire for round two.
"Thank you so much, Iowa, for standing up and not compromising, by standing up and being bold," Santorum told cheering backers heartened by his virtual photo-finish with rival Mitt Romney. "You have taken the first step toward taking back this country."
Supporters joined Santorum for a noisy victory celebration after tabulation of Tuesday night's caucuses went into the early hours of Wednesday without a winner.
"This is a Cinderella story," said Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, the only statewide elected official to endorse Santorum. "Two weeks ago we were in last place."
Santorum's surge was built on a traditional Iowa caucus campaign: showing up often, meeting as many activists as possible, and paying attention to the state where precinct caucuses launch the presidential nominating season.
"This has been an incredible journey — all 99 counties, 381 town hall meetings, 36 Pizza Ranches," Santorum said.
The former senator from Pennsylvania based his showing on strong backing from the evangelicals and social conservatives who play an important role in the state's Republican politics. His victory speech reflected that sentiment.
"God has given us this great country to allow his people to be free," he said. "I offer a public thanks to God."
Santorum moved almost immediately to take advantage of his strong finish, firing out a fundraising appeal to deal with his most pressing problem, a lack of money..
"It's now or never for conservative voters," his appeal said. "I am the only authentic, passionate conservative who can unite the GOP."
The crowd jamming his victory celebration waited patiently for the votes to be counted, occasionally singing songs like "Amazing Grace" and chanting "We pick Rick."
Santorum talked of his grandfather, who he said worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines to bring the rest of the family to America.
"My dad taught me to work hard," he said. "There are so many men and women who would love to work, but they don't have the opportunity."
Santorum vowed to offer something different than other Republicans by focusing on bolstering the nation's industrial base.
"There is another vision that some Republicans offer which is just let's cut taxes, let's just reduce spending and everything will be fine," he said.
Santorum called for a focus on industrial jobs.
"We found those jobs leaving Iowa," he said. "It's because the government made worker uncompetitive by driving up the cost of doing business."
Closing his campaign by appealing to young people, he expanded on the theme of smaller government.
"It will crush your pocketbook in the future," he said. "Hold the candidates accountable to the intractable problem of exploding government."
Bob Vander Plaats, who heads the conservative Family Leader and endorsed Santorum, said the result have a clear impact.
"It means we have a true pro-family conservative to go one on one with Mitt Romney," he said.
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