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Santorum Betting Hard on South Carolina, But Won’t Readily Admit It

AFP/Getty Images(COLUMBIA, S.C.) -- Rick Santorum is betting heavily on South Carolina, buying up $1.5 million worth of television ads ahead of next week’s primary, but one would be hard-pressed to get the former Pennsylvania senator to admit just how important winning this state is to his prospects of sealing the GOP nomination.

Asked if he, like opponent Newt Gingrich, believes South Carolina is a “must-win state,” Santorum punted, calling this critical primary state just “the third state out of 50.”

“I wouldn’t call that the must-win category. We’re going to do well here and we’re going to fight,” he said.

Santorum is hoping that this socially conservative state will deliver him an upset victory, telegraphing to future primary states that the nomination of frontrunner Mitt Romney is not a foregone conclusion.

Santorum, who on Wednesday opened five new campaign offices in this state and named 169 new county captains, is betting on a grassroots ground game strategy similar to the one that delivered him a virtual tie for first place in Iowa.

At an event in Ridgeway Wednesday, he insisted the race here was still anyone’s game.

“It's good to get back here and get on the ground,” he told a small crowd at the YesterYear Restaurant.

“Some of you have seen this movie Forrest Gump. That’s what it is every week — you don’t know what you’re going to get. We’ve had some great contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, and all of that is really a primer to South Carolina. We feel this is a place where the field is wide open,” he said.

Despite spending more time in New Hampshire than any candidate other than Jon Huntsman, Santorum played down his fifth-place finish there, insisting he spent no money in the state, ran no ads, and was competing against Huntsman and Romney, who “lived there.”

Santorum is trying to sell himself as a conservative in contrast to his portrayal of Romney as a “Boston moderate,” but in addition to Romney he has to contend with other conservatives vying for the same voters.

“South Carolina is open for anyone and it’s an opportunity to go out and earn it,” he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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