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Santorum tells Rock Hill 'choir': "Go out and sing"

With six kids surrounding her, home-schooling Christian conservative mother Lori Ferebee clapped and nodded when the home-schooling Christian conservative candidate with seven kids talked about faith and family and votes.

"He's just like me," said Ferebee. "He's genuine when he says that faith and family will save America. Rick Santorum is the faith candidate, so he has to be my candidate. He has my vote now."

And when Santorum spoke Friday at the Magnolia Room in Rock Hill, making it clear that he needs those Christian conservatives if he has any hope of winning, he acknowledged that he was "speaking to the choir."

Santorum knew he already had, or earned Friday, most of the votes in the room that had so many young mothers such as Ferebee who brought along dozens of home-schooled kids or kids who attend Christian schools.

"Sometimes the choir has to go out and sing solos," Santorum urged the crowd. "Go out and sing."

Santorum is seeking the same conservative votes as Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, who visited Rock Hill earlier this week. Yet Santorum rose from almost the bottom of the pack in Iowa to a virtual tie for first-place, and he hopes his appeal to families with conservative ideals helps him take those conservative votes.

The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania spoke at length Friday, likable and friendly and taking time for just about anybody who wanted to talk to him.

Rick Santorum, clearly, loves to talk. He took questions and talked and talked. In what might be a first, anywhere, a politician arrived 20 minutes early for a 10 a.m. event. Santorum walked in and started talking and barely stopped for an hour and a half.

And those people there to hear him loved him for that talking in the vestibule-at-church style - even if he was long-winded at times.

The label that even Santorum admitted used to be tacked to him like that fat kid in school with the sign taped on his back - "Likable, but he can't win" - was shed by many in the audience who were on the fence when they arrived on Friday.

Sharon and Frank Bynum of Fort Mill, who admitted that they were reticent to support Santorum before Friday because the perception was he "couldn't win," now say that he can.

Santorum's out-front Christian conservatism is his chance at winning, Sharon Bynum said. It is that simple.

"Rick Santorum showed not just me, but everyone here today, that he is the conservative choice," Bynum said. "I looked at all the candidates. Santorum has the combination of family values and faith that can get him elected in South Carolina."

Ferebee, that homeschooling mother of six, was not the only mother in the audience to vow to start calling and emailing others to support Santorum.

A flock of homeschooling parents in the audience said that Santorum is the only candidate who mirrors the family-based conservatism so prevalent in this area and who make up a core of GOP primary voters.

Diane Allen, five home-schooled children with her Friday, vowed to campaign for Santorum.

"He is the family conservative candidate," Allen said. "He is the most like people here. Conservative, Christian, committed to family values."

Santorum, traveling with his family, bringing his family on stage, used the word "family" at least a half-dozen times.

"Family values - he said it himself," said Robert Hanson of Fort Mill, who brought home-schooled children ages 10 and 7. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He said happiness is doing what is morally right. That struck home with me.

"That's who we are around here - conservative family people who do what is morally right to make us happy."

York County's Republicans are traditionally among the most conservative in the state. But Mitt Romney, called a moderate by Santorum, leads around the state.

And even the audience, in questions to Santorum during the event and in talking afterward, acknowledged that there are only so many conservative votes to go around.

But Santorum vowed to push on, saying that he "trusts the people of South Carolina" to choose him as their conservative champion as happened in Iowa, rather than opting for Gingrich or Perry.

Santorum made it clear in his remarks, both speeches and just talking with people, shooting the breeze, that he wanted people to think he is "just like them."

"When Barack Obama talked about those people in Pennsylvania who cling to their guns and their Bibles, how do you think I won my elections?" Santorum asked the crowd Friday.

Those people voted for him and his values, that's how. For people such as Ferebee from Rock Hill and Hanson from Fort Mill, that conservatism and his perceived momentum is the clincher.

"He's the only one on his way up - not on the way down," Ferebee said. "His support is growing. When people like me meet him, see him, hear him, they will support him."