(CBS) -- After losing to a native son of Michigan in Tuesday night's Republican primary contest there, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum reminded voters that his close second-place finish to rival Mitt Romney was better than many had expected just weeks ago.
"A month ago, they didn't know who we are, but they do now," the candidate said in post-primary remarks, thanking Michigan voters for "getting to know" him and exclaiming to a room of supporters that "I love you back!"
"You know, we came into the backyard of one of my opponents, in a race that everyone said, well, just ignore, you have really no chance here," Santorum continued, referring to Romney, who was raised in Michigan and whose father served as its governor. "And the people of Michigan looked into the hearts of the candidates, and all I have to say is: I love you back."
The Santorum campaign had hoped to pull off an upset victory over the former Massachusetts governor, who fell behind him in some polls in the weeks leading up to the contest. Romney won by just a few percentage points in Michigan and soundly defeated Santorum in Arizona.
The former Pennsylvania senator paid special tribute to his family in his Tuesday night remarks, thanking his 93-year-old mother for having served as a guiding example "of how it's important to balance that work and family," and lauding his daughter Elizabeth for her work on the campaign trail.
"I've been very, very blessed, very blessed with great role models for me, as someone who goes out and tries to do the job I'm doing right now, to balance the rigors of running a campaign and trying to maintain a good and strong family," he said. "We all have to do that as Americans. We all have that responsibility, to make both work and work as well as we can, and it's getting harder out here in America."
Santorum accused big government of "crushing" average Americans with taxes and regulations, and making it "harder for people to make ends meet."
"That ultimately is about what this race is about," he said. "It goes down to the very nature of who we are as Americans. Are we a country that believes in big government? Do we believe in the smart and elite in this country to manage us? Or do you believe in free people and a free economy and building a great America from the bottom up? What do you say?"
The candidate will now turn his attention to next week's pivotal "Super Tuesday" nominations, during which voters in ten states will elect their choice to be the Republican presidential nominee. Current polls have Santorum doing well in the Ohio, a crucial battleground state with demographic similar to Michigan. Whether Santorum will be able to retain his national momentum following consecutive losses on Tuesday night remains to be seen.