LUVERNE, Minn. — As political watchers fixated on Florida, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum delivered a message to Minnesotans: The race is still on, no matter the outcome of Tuesday's primary.
Santorum, speaking Monday to a crowd of about 300 people at the Palace Theatre in the southwest town of Luverne, seemed determined to regain the Midwest momentum he'd enjoyed in Iowa — even on the eve of Florida's primary, in which the senator hasn't polled well.
"I believe we're going to be in it until the end, and I believe we're going to win this race," Santorum told an enthusiastic crowd.
The visit marked the second time Santorum has hit Minnesota — and only the third time any of the Republican candidates have stumped in the state. Ron Paul had a rally in St. Cloud in November that nearly filled the civic center.
Minnesota's nonbinding caucuses are Feb. 7.
"You here in Minnesota, believe it or not, are still an early state," Santorum told the crowd, "You don't get all the play that Iowa gets. ... Your causes aren't as big as Iowa's, maybe, but they're just as important."
It's a message that David and Gwen Sturrock of Marshall, Minn., said they appreciate. The couple attended Paul's rally as well, but they were particularly interested in seeing Santorum visit such a small town. Luverne has fewer than 5,000 residents.
"We don't get things like this in Luverne," said Gwen Sturrock, 42, as she tried to corral sons Alex, 3, and Augie, 5.
Added 54-year-old David Sturrock, "We've even got some Twin Cities media here."
Former Luverne Mayor Bill Weber said some in the crowd had traveled from South Dakota, Wisconsin and other Midwest states to get a glimpse of Santorum in his trademark -- and Minnesota-made -- sweater vest.
"I've heard a lot of people ask, 'Why Luverne?'" Weber said. "Well, obviously, Luverne is the place to be!"
The event originally was set to be held in a Pizza Ranch restaurant, but the anticipated turnout kept growing, forcing organizers to switch venues, Weber said.
In a question-and-answer period, Santorum acknowledged he's frustrated with voters who say they like him but won't vote for him because polls indicate he isn't likely to win. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, he said, while urging Minnesota voters to follow their consciences.
From the audience arose a voice of support: "Keep the faith, brother," prompting applause.
Santorum promised he would.