PERRY, Iowa — An increasingly upbeat Rick Santorum closed his intense presidential campaign for Iowa's leadoff Republican precinct caucuses Monday by making it clear he's positioning himself for tests further down the road.
Santorum raced across the state to five separate town hall meetings, each more jammed than the previous. The final event in suburban Des Moines was so crowded that he gave two speeches in separate rooms because the hundreds attending couldn't fit into one.
"I feel good about where I am," he said. "We're going up."
Most polls over the last week have seen Santorum move from single digits in the polls to a solid third-place standing, and that's been a double benefit. While he doesn't have the money of his rivals, he's beginning to get back into that game.
"Over the holiday weekend, we raised more money than we have in the last couple of months," he said.
Asked how he would fare in tests down the road, Santorum exuded confidence.
"I feel very good in New Hampshire," he said. "They like this kind of politics, too."
He said only Jon Huntsman has held more events in New Hampshire than he, and he's had more South Carolina events than any of his GOP rivals.
"If Iowa lights a spark there's a lot of timber out there to catch fire," he said.
At each event Monday his pitch was the same, urging Iowans to show up at the precinct caucus. He rejected the argument that he's too conservative to win a general election and contended that message was beginning to resonate.
"Do not defer to what all the pundits say," he said. "I didn't have the money to compete in Iowa, but money doesn't buy Iowa."
Santorum began to catch heat from his rivals. Automated phone calls were being used across the state accusing him, among other things, of being soft on gun control, he said. He attributed the calls to rival Ron Paul and said Paul's record has been far from strong on either issue.
Santorum opened his day seeking to deflect Mitt Romney's claim that he has more business and government experience than any of his rivals. That, Santorum argued, badly misses the point.
"I'm asking you not to settle for someone as your nominee who might be able to win the election but it might be a pyrrhic victory," he said. "One of my opponents who has now directed his attention at me has said he has executive experience. We are not looking for executive experience, we are looking for a commander in chief."