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After Iowa Loss, Santorum Taking Fight to New Hampshire

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- Though Rick Santorum ultimately came up short in Iowa to Mitt Romney by eight votes, he won the battle of expectations.  More important, he’s leaving his top rivals -- Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich -- in the dust when it comes to the title of conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.

So what does Santorum do now?

He needs to solidify his status as the anti-Romney, consensus conservative. The best way to do this is to show that he can consolidate that base in states other than Iowa.

But New Hampshire isn’t a natural fit for Santorum.  In Iowa, 58 percent of Republican caucus-goers defined themselves as evangelicals.  In New Hampshire, meanwhile, just 23 percent of 2008 Republican primary voters characterized themselves as such.

Plus, more than half of Republican primary voters in New Hampshire said they thought abortion should be legal, something Santorum strongly opposes.

So, why not go straight to South Carolina?

Sources close to the campaign say that Tuesday night’s strong showing in Iowa coupled with another one in New Hampshire could solidify the race as a Romney vs. Santorum contest.  And more specifically, a battle between a candidate they will try to cast as a moderate (Romney) vs. the “true” conservative (Santorum).

It was also evident from Santorum’s victory speech Tuesday night that he is intent on framing the race as a contrast between his own blue collar roots and Romney’s far more privileged upbringing.

Santorum’s advisers argue that despite Romney’s lead in the polls in New Hampshire, they too have laid the groundwork to be competitive there. They add that although the former Pennsylvania senator has basically lived in Iowa for the past few months, he has managed to log almost as many days in New Hampshire as Romney.

“I’m not saying that we’re going to win New Hampshire,” Santorum adviser Hogan Gidley said in an interview with ABC News, “but we’re going to New Hampshire and we’re going to fight.”

Gidley said the campaign’s goal over the coming weeks would be to prove that Santorum can go “toe to toe with Mitt Romney in any part of the country.”

What’s more, Santorum doesn’t need to win New Hampshire, he just needs to do better than any other candidate not named Romney.  If he does that, he can effectively claim the mantle of the conservative alternative.

To that end, Santorum will travel directly to New Hampshire on Wednesday and remain there at least until Sunday when, as of now, he plans to travel to South Carolina for a day of campaigning before returning to New Hampshire.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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