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GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks to a crowd at Paul and Babe recently in Bemidji. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Santorum rally draws 560 to Bemidji's Sanford Center

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Rick Santorum appeared in Bemidji two days before Tuesday's Minnesota caucuses, urging those taking part in the selection of the next Republican candidate to support his campaign.

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"You're going to have an opportunity to reset this election," said the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

In a 39-minute speech before about 560 people in the ballroom at the Sanford Center, Santorum said Minnesota voters could send a message to the pundits that the nomination will not to go the candidate who spends the most money, but to the candidate with the best ideas, the boldest plans, the greatest conviction and consistent message.

"You folks in Minnesota know that money doesn't buy everything and it certainly isn't going to buy this election," he said.

The rally at the Sanford Center capped off a visit through Bemidji that featured a tour of the Bemidji Woolen Mills, the local company producing the Santorum sweater vests that have become symbolic of his campaign.

"I know it ended up being a fluke (his coming here) because of those sweaters, but thank God for those sweaters," said Helen Glen of Bemidji, who with her husband, Russ, attended the rally.

The Glens said they both supported Santorum's campaign prior to the Bemidji visit.

"His message of what he stands for is what we stand for," said Russ Glen, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

"We're happy to be able to see him, to hear him," Helen Russ said. "We're happy to see what a real person he is."

The couple said they are appalled by the combative campaigns between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, who both also are seeking the Republican nomination.

"I'm offended that they think they can buy an election," Helen Russ said. "Half of us haven't even voted yet."

Sarah Gray, her husband and their four children came to Bemidji from the Brainerd area for the day to attend the Santorum events.

"It was a great speech. I'm really impressed," said Sarah Gary, who formerly supported the Tim Pawlenty campaign for the Republican nomination.

"He's a good man," she said of Santorum. "I was interested in what he had to say."

Ken Cobb, the chairman of Beltrami County Republicans, opened the rally and Beltrami County Commissioner Joe Vene sang the national anthem and led the audience on a rendition of "God Bless America."

State Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, also spoke, first appearing in the traditional red-and-black-checkered Bemidji lumberjack vest.

"This vest has become emblematic about a community coming together and doing great things," he said.

Carlson then took off that vest and revealed, underneath, the Woolen Mills-created Santorum vest, which Carlson said will become representative of American coming together and doing great things.

"I proudly wear this vest," he said.

Outside of the Sanford Center, a lineup of Ron Paul supporters indicated their displeasure with Santorum, Romney and Gingrich. Additionally, there was a group of protestors who objected to Santorum's support of marriage defined as one man and one woman. They held signs with sayings such as "gay rights are human rights" and "I love my family - why doesn't Rick?"

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