POSTED: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 8:20pm
UPDATED: Sunday, February 26, 2012 - 1:06pm
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — A victorious Rick Santorum began his day surrounded by the prayers of a Texas congregation.
Santorum is in his comfort zone taking on social issues and talking about faith - success is the new territory.
Santorum joked, "One of the great gifts I have had in my political career, is nobody thinks that I can ever win anything."
Short on the typical necessities, money and campaign organization, Santorum rebuffed presumptions that Mitt Romney is the Republicans' inevitable nominee.
"I don't stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” said Santorum. “I stand here to be the conservative to Barack Obama.”
Santorum's blue collar roots appeared to prompt a new personal story from the wealthy Mitt Romney, who referred to his auto executive father's early days as carpenter's apprentice.
Santorum's moment also has the benefit of good political timing. Santorum, who is Catholic, has been hammering the White House over the rule that requires some religious-based employers to provide coverage for birth control, despite fierce objections from the Catholic Church.
"The bottom line is this administration, as you can tell from my reaction, has been hostile to people of faith, particularly Christians and specifically Catholics," said Santorum.
While many republicans, including Mitt Romney, demanded the rule be reversed, the White House hit Romney over similar requirements in his state's health insurance.
Landing in Atlanta, Romney fought back, "So when working on our health care plan, I worked very hard to get the legislature to remove all of the mandated coverage including contraception."
Romney is taking fire from all sides. Today, he called Santorum and Gingrich Republicans who act like Democrats, hitting them both for earmarks and spending while they served in Congress.