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Santorum says Iowa race still wide open with month to go

U.S. presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum speaks at the annual Republican Party of Iowa Ronald Reagan Dinner
U.S. presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum speaks at the annual Republican Party of Iowa Ronald Reagan Dinner

By Colleen Jenkins

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (Reuters) - Republican White House hopeful Rick Santorum, pulling single-digit support in Iowa, said on Sunday that the race to win the state's leadoff caucuses remains wide open, with Newt Gingrich's new edge surmountable.

Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, drew 25 percent support from likely Republican caucus-goers in the latest Iowa Poll for The Des Moines Register, compared to Santorum's 6 percent.

"We're not down by a whole bunch," said Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania vying for the right to challenge President Barack Obama in the 2012 White House race.

Gingrich's lead is "not a number that certainly makes anybody quake in their boots," Santorum told reporters after speaking to a group of about 175 people in snowy Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Santorum scoffed at the idea that the contest for the Republican presidential nomination is down to two people, Gingrich and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who placed third in the Iowa Poll with 16 percent.

"All of a sudden we're supposed to believe that the latest crave is the one that's going to stick," he said.

The candidate, who noted he plans to spend most of December in Iowa, which on January 3 holds the first of next year's U.S. presidential nominating contests, said he expects his support to rise when it matters.

"We're going to be peaking right about the right time," he said.

The former senator told a supportive crowd in the western part of the state, many of them families who home-school their children as Santorum's family does, that the leaders in the polls were not the most conservative candidates in the field.

He said Iowa Republicans would "create shockwaves among the establishment" by picking him over the current leading candidates.

(Editing by Philip Barbara)

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