He may be near last in the polls, but Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum suggested to a Scott Community College class Wednesday that he has as good a chance of winning as any of the candidates in the race.

Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, had the support of just 3 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa in a Bloomberg News poll taken last week. But he also has acknowledged to be the candidate who is running the most traditional grassroots campaign in the state, and he said Iowa is the kind of place where low-funded campaigns can break through.

"People say, ‘Well, you're sort of in the back of the pack,' but a lot of folks are saying, ‘You know what, you have as much chance of pulling this thing out as almost anybody else in the field,'" he said.

This year's campaign has seen a rotating list of hopefuls emerge in the polls as a potential alternative to Mitt Romney. First, it was Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, Herman Cain and, of late, Newt Gingrich. All but Cain and Gingrich have shrunk in the polls. And Santorum, while not experiencing his own surge yet, made the pitch that Iowans, given the nature of the caucuses, have a unique ability to have an effect on the race.

"Iowa gives people the opportunity to get on the map, and that's what we're doing," he said.

Santorum's day in the Quad-City area was a reflection of the campaign he has run in the state. He made stops in Clinton, DeWitt, Bettendorf and Muscatine, all within the span of about eight hours.

He recently visited his 99th county in Iowa, and he told the students in an answer to a question about a typical day in the life of a U.S. senator, that this kind of campaigning is a window into his own work habits - and of others in the presidential race.

"We all have different work habits," he said. "I tend to work long hours, and I think the fact that I've been to all 99 counties in the state and everybody else has been to maybe half will give you an idea that there are different work habits among politicians as there are among senators."

Taking a question from a student who is a veteran of Afghanistan, Santorum criticized President Barack Obama for setting a timeline for the withdrawal of troops there, saying "it just so happens" to be within months of the 2012 election.

That timeline, he said, gives hope to the enemy. Santorum said the Taliban need to be contained so they don't pose a threat to Afghanistan's stability.

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"I think it's pretty clear we're not at that point, and so we need to continue the mission," he said.

He also was critical of the idea that Social Security recipients can begin collecting payments as early as age 62, and he said budgetary pressures make it necessary to rein in Medicare costs.

Seniors may think they have earned those benefits, he said, but added, "You didn't earn a blank check."

Excessive growth of government, he said, was robbing future generations of their liberty. And he said he proposed to cut spending so that it would be about 18 percent of the economy. The post-World War II average is 20 percent. In the past two years, it has been at about 25 percent.