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SIOUX CITY | Former U.S. Sen. and 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania brought a basic message to Sioux City on Wednesday: Vote Republican.

A precursor to a private fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, in Dakota Dunes and part of a two-day tour of Iowa, Santorum's stop here served as a rally for GOP candidates seeking state and national office.

Speaking at the Republican Party office at 2526 Glenn Ave., Santorum urged a gathering of about 15 to vote for Joni Ernst for U.S. Senate and Sam Clovis for state treasurer and to send King back to Congress for a seventh term.

He emphasized the importance of electing a Republican-controlled Senate this year but added that he anticipates very little will change in national politics until a new president is elected in 2016.

“I could be wrong, I hope I am wrong,” he said. "I hope this is a big enough win that the president will take a step back and say, 'Well, maybe I need to rethink what I’m doing.'"

Mary and Bill Kelly, of Sioux City, were eager to hear from King.

“I’ve always admired him,” Mary Kelly said. “He’s honest and straightforward.”

“And he’s a Republican,” Bill Kelly added with a smile.

King reiterated Santorum's message about sending Ernst rather than her opponent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, to Washington in the Nov. 4 election. He called the race “pivotal” in gaining a Republican majority in the Senate.

Such a majority, King said, would allow more than 370 stagnant bills to move to the Senate floor and then to President Barack Obama’s desk.

“The first of which, I hope, is the 100 percent repeal of Obamacare,” he said, referring to the president's health-care overhaul.

King also took a jab at his opponent, Democrat Jim Mowrer, whom he's scheduled to debate Thursday at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. King had earlier threatened to pull out of the Iowa Public Television debate over objections to a Mowrer campaign ad and refused to take part in a debate in Sioux City.

“I’m still looking for compliments in the campaign commercials that are being run against me,” he joked Wednesday.

King called Clovis, who is challenging state Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald for his office and who spoke before King, the “voice of constitutional conservatism in Northwest Iowa.”

Clovis, calling himself “cautiously optimistic,” discussed a proposal to divert funds for public service announcements to start college savings accounts for Iowa children in low-income households.

“A child that has a college savings program is seven times more likely to go to college and four times more likely to graduate,” he said. “What that does is, it breaks the cycle of poverty in the state of Iowa, it changes the economy of Iowa almost overnight.”

Santorum, who won the 2012 Iowa caucuses, said he's optimistic the nation will elect a GOP president in 2016 but shied away from committing himself to another presidential bid.

“We’re doing everything consistent with giving it a run in 2016,” he said. “But I won’t make any decisions on that until well into 2015.”

The Kellys said they’d seriously consider voting for Santorum if he were to run again.

“I liked them all three, really,” Mary Kelly said of the day's speakers. “They all struck me well.”

“And they’re Republican,” Bill Kelly added.

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