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Santorum blasts Obama at Punta Gorda rally

PUNTA GORDA -- Rick Santorum told a crowd of 500 in Punta Gorda on Tuesday that in the past, his advisers have recommended he "run a bit more to the middle." He said he told them no.

He gets cheers telling the story, and he tops it off by saying, "It's better to lose an election than lose what you stand for."

But even his supporters said Tuesday that right now, although he thrilled the right-leaning crowd in Punta Gorda, they wonder if a candidate with such strong views can win Florida.

Santorum was blunt on immigration. He told the crowd that immigrants illegally in the United States are breaking the law.

He was blunt on the poor, saying that many are not working, did not graduate high school and had children out of wedlock, all which derailed their careers.

He was blunt on energy, eschewing global warming and condemning President Barack Obama for shutting down oil drilling.

"I am not mean," Santorum said to a woman in the crowd who told him she thought he could "kick butt" in Washington. "But I am not afraid to take on the toughest issues and make tough decisions."

Santorum channeled Ronald Reagan often, saying that Reagan taught Americans the toughness of a person is not on the outside but what is at their core.

The crowd chanted, "Rick, Rick," and many yelled, "You've got my vote!"

Carol Swink, like Santorum from Pennsylvania, said she felt charisma from Santorum.

"I think he resonates with grassroots America," Swink said. "I think we need him because he stands for something."

Also in his remarks, Santorum took aim at President Obama.

"Sometimes we need a Jimmy Carter to get a Ronald Reagan," Santorum said. "Barack Obama has devastated our nation by shutting off drilling and taking over the financial service sector."

Santorum also offered a glimpse at what he thinks it will take to solve the nation's ills.

"I believe we can solve all our problems through our churches and families," he said.

Ron and Sharon Pennington are among a church-full of members from Victory Baptist Church in North Fort Myers who came to hear Santorum.

"We're conservatives," Ron Pennington said. "I'm a farmer from Michigan. We don't go for abortion and all that stuff. We know that Santorum may be a little to right leaning for the nation, but he's spot-on for us. We think he can bring America back."

Today's rally was organized by the Punta Gorda Tea Party.

"We are not endorsing Santorum, but our mission is to educate the electorate and what better person to do that than someone of Santorum's caliber," said Paula Schaff, president of the Punta Gorda Tea Party.

Schaff said that Santorum's staff actually sent her a request asking if the Tea Party would be interested in hosting a forum with him present.

"None of the other candidates replied back," Schaff said.

Bill Folchi, chairman of the Charlotte County Republican Party, said that although Santorum is a longshot, he appears to be the only candidate who has consistently taken steps forward.

"The field looks even to me," Folchi said. "Romney and Gingrich are up and down. Santorum has made steady progress. His problem is, does he have the organization to follow through? I really don't know if he really has the organization, even in Florida. So we'll see in the next days how he does."