Rick Santorum woos Iowa one pancake breakfast at a time

The Reising Sun Cafe in Polk City, Iowa hasn't seen a crowd since the boxer Sugar Ray Leonard stopped by a few years ago. This morning even Sugar Ray couldn't have got through the door.

The normally sleepy breakfast place, which serves mean pancakes and excellent coffee, by the way, hosted former Senator Rick Santorum, the Republican flavour of the week.

Mr Santorum has spent months assiduously wooing Iowa voters but it is only in the past few days that local opinion polls have registered a swift uptick in his support here. As a result his campaign events - which only last week were quiet, lonely affairs - are now a scrum.

The voters in the Reising Sun were far outnumbered by the reporters who had come from all around the world to hear him speak. Who knew the Japanese and Swedes were so interested in the policies of the former senator from Pennsylvania?

Image copyright AP
Image caption Katty Kay interviews presidential candidate Rick Santorum at the Reising Sun Cafe

Rick Santorum is enjoying this attention for the same reason Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain before him got their five minutes in the spotlight: Republicans are not in love with the front-runner, Mitt Romney.

They are still looking for a candidate who can excite conservatives. Having tried and discarded a string of others, they are focusing on Rick Santorum.

But Mr Santorum is more than just the latest non-Romney candidate. In Polk City he displayed an earnest authenticity that goes down well. Voters here like his long, serious answers.

After listening to him for almost an hour, the local mayor, who told me beforehand he was undecided, said he was now going to support Mr Santorum because he was impressed with him and believed he was genuine.

He also liked the fact that the senator is solidly socially conservative. Mr Santorum is known for his opposition to gay rights and illegal immigrants, and as a fiscal conservative he supports privatising social security and balancing the budget. That too goes down well in Iowa.

So can he go all the way? As he told me after meeting the voters: "This isn't my first rodeo. I have been through this and I think we can hang on to the horse."

For two days here in Iowa, Rick Santorum is getting the kind of press attention usually bestowed on a pack leader. But he's still a long shot for the nomination - he had better enjoy this excitement while he can.