Santorum wins big in South, grabs conservative banner

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.,  (Reuters) – Republican Rick Santorum won a pair of crucial Deep South primaries yesterday, taking control of the party’s conservative wing in the presidential race and dealing a severe setback to rival Newt Gingrich.
Santorum narrowly defeated Gingrich and front-runner Mitt Romney in three-way battles that shook up a volatile Republican presidential race that has already seen a series of shifts and stumbles.
The losses were a huge blow to Gingrich, who represented Georgia in Congress and desperately needed a win in one of the Deep South states to validate his southern-based comeback strategy and keep his struggling campaign afloat.
“We did it again,” Santorum told supporters at a victory rally in Lafayette, Louisiana, the next southern state with a primary, on March 24.
“We will compete everywhere,” said Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who was heavily outspent in both states by Romney. “The time is now for conservatives to pull together. If we nominate a conservative we will beat Barack Obama.”
Romney scored victories in Republican caucuses in Hawaii and the South Pacific U.S. territory of American Samoa.
The Republican showdowns in the Deep South, a party stronghold in the general election, had been a crucial test of strength in the battle for conservative supremacy between Santorum and Gingrich.
Pressure will mount on Gingrich, a former House of Representatives speaker, to drop out so Santorum can consolidate conservatives in challenging Romney. But Gingrich repeated his pledge to push on with his campaign to the convention in Tampa, Florida.
“The fact that I want to talk about substance is what makes this campaign different from other campaigns and is a reason we’re going to go all the way to Tampa to compete for the nomination,” he told supporters in a Birmingham hotel ballroom.
Romney has opened a big lead in delegates in the Republican race to pick a challenger to President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6 election, but he has been unable to capture the hearts of conservatives who distrust him for moderate stances he took as governor of liberal Massachusetts.
With nearly all the votes counted, Santorum won 33 percent in Mississippi to 31 percent for Gingrich and 30 percent for Romney. In Alabama, Santorum had 35 percent and Gingrich and Romney each had 29 percent. Gingrich was slightly ahead of Romney in Alabama for second place.
The results were a setback for Romney, the shaky front-runner who was hoping a breakthrough win in the South would prove his ability to appeal to the party’s core conservatives.
The two third-place finishes by Romney ensured the often shifting race will continue into April or beyond. They also are likely to increase talk that none of the contenders will win the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination before the contests end in June.

 

 

Around the Web

Comments