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GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum in Rock Hill, York today

Rick Santorum will make two stops in York County today, hoping to emerge as the most viable conservative not named Romney.

The Republican presidential hopeful will hold a town hall meeting this morning in Rock Hill before heading to York for a lunchtime meet-and-greet.

Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, was elected to the U.S. House in 1990 and served in the Senate from 1995 to 2007. In 2006, he lost his re-election bid to a democrat.

Santorum's support in South Carolina is growing, said Joe St. John, who runs Santorum's campaign office in Rock Hill.

Volunteers will be making phone calls from there this weekend and hitting the streets canvassing and putting up signs at major intersections and "anywhere there's a Walmart," he said.

"Everybody is talking that Mitt Romney's got this big lead," St. John said of the former Massachusetts governor who won the first two GOP contests. "But in 2008, it was the same scenario.

"Santorum is the same type of candidate" as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Republicans in York County and most of the 5th Congressional District picked Huckabee in 2008, who was a more conservative alternative to eventual nominee John McCain, he said.

Santorum's strong second-place finish Iowa might have been a game-changer for him in South Carolina, where many likely supporters were hesitant, said Dave Woodard, Clemson University political science professor.

"He's made a lot of contacts and met a lot of people," Woodard said, "but they always end their sentence with, 'He can't win.'

"After Iowa, all that changed."

Some "will become true believers," he said, adding to Santorum's growing support "beneath the surface.

Santorum has also been hard at work in the state, trying to meet as many voters as possible, said Woodard. He noted a stop the candidate made at an Eagle Scout event in Easley in rural Pickens county - not a likely place to find a candidate trying to reach as many voters as possible.

"He's the hardest-working candidate in the field," Woodard said. "He was clearly hammering" in South Carolina.

He still must overcome the money Romney has been pouring into the state through mailers, robo-calls and canvassing voters, he said.

Hogan Gidley, Santorum's national communication director, was optimistic Thursday. A near-win in Iowa and nearly besting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in New Hampshire sets the stage for South Carolina - a place where Santorum began campaigning early.

Santorum has been to South Carolina nearly 30 times, Gidley said, holding nearly 140 events and recruiting campaigners across the state.

That kind of retail approach to campaigning - which Huckabee employed successfully in 2008 - could work for Santorum, he said.

Karen Kedrowski, who chairs the Winthrop University political science department, doesn't see the parallel.

"Santorum is not nearly in as good a position as Huckabee was," she said.

Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, appealed to evangelical Christian voters - the same demographic Santorum is competing for with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, she said.

Huckabee also found his success in January 2008 - months before the Recession took hold.

"The economy was not in dire straits," Kedrowski said.