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Santorum says Illinois 'can shake up' GOP race

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March 16, 2012: Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a rally in Osage Beach, Mo.AP

Playing for another upset, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum urged conservatives Friday to further upend the nominating contest by putting Illinois in his column.

Swamped in the state's ad battle, Santorum told thousands in a Christian high school's gymnasium that they can "shake up this race like no state can shake it up."

The former Pennsylvania senator appealed to social and tea party conservatives to take out their frustration in a place where the Republican Party has had a poor track record and tilts toward the moderate.

"No one is expecting us to do well here in Illinois," he said.

Santorum said voters might not see him on TV as much as rival Mitt Romney but that they can expect to be flooded with calls and other pleas for votes before Tuesday's primary.

Santorum was spending the first of two days campaigning in President Barack Obama's home state. Santorum has local ties, too -- he graduated from a suburban Catholic high school not far from the site of his Friday night rally.

Obama was a senator from Illinois before leaping to the presidency.

"You have a unique duty here in Illinois to correct a wrong," Santorum said.

Earlier Friday, Santorum was in Missouri, one of the states that catapulted him into contender status. He won a nonbonding primary in early February with 55 percent of the vote and a sweep of the state's counties. Missouri Republicans head Saturday to caucuses where potential national convention delegates will be fighting to advance in the process.

Santorum said it's crucial that they not let one of his breakthrough wins slip away. Romney has the support of many prominent Republicans, including Sen. Roy Blunt.

"You spoke a month ago, you spoke loudly a month ago," Santorum said during a morning rally at a town theater in Osage Beach, Mo. "We need to win big and decisive. We need to show that that big win a month ago has not dissipated the energy and enthusiasm here in Missouri."

Santorum starts his day Saturday visiting caucus sites and ends with three stops in southern Illinois, where he needs to do well if he hopes to overtake Romney.