Bloomberg News

Santorum Supporters Press Gingrich to Drop Out of Primaries

March 08, 2012

Rick Santorum supporters at a rally in Chillicothe, Ohio, March 2, 2012. Photographer: Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times/Redux

Rick Santorum supporters at a rally in Chillicothe, Ohio, March 2, 2012. Photographer: Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times/Redux

Rick Santorum’s aides and allies have a message for rival Newt Gingrich: Time to Go.

Within minutes of Santorum winning a trio of victories in this week’s Super Tuesday voting, his backers began making the case that Gingrich should drop out of the Republican presidential contest.

Richard Viguerie, a Republican activist and chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, urged Gingrich to end his candidacy and endorse Santorum.

“Newt Gingrich holds the key to nominating a conservative Republican candidate for president,” Viguerie, who endorsed Santorum in January, wrote in a statement. “The former speaker can either be a kingmaker or a spoiler because, to unite conservatives, Gingrich would have to suspend his campaign and endorse Rick Santorum.”

Santorum yesterday distanced himself from the effort, telling reporters in Lenexa, Kansas, he doesn’t endorse it. “That’s certainly not coming from me and I don’t support it,” he said.

Instead, the message is being delivered by top campaign strategists and close allies, who argue Gingrich’s presence in the race is strengthening Mitt Romney’s ability to win the party’s nomination.

“It is time for Newt Gingrich to exit the Republican nominating process,” Stuart Roy, an adviser to the Red White & Blue fund, a pro-Santorum political action committee, said in a statement yesterday. “Newt has become a hindrance to a conservative alternative.”

‘Just Getting Started’

“We’re just getting started,” Rick Tyler, a former Gingrich aide now heading up a super-PAC supporting the former speaker’s candidacy said in an e-mail. “Let the voters in the remaining states have their say.”

In primaries on March 13 in Mississippi and Alabama, Santorum and Gingrich will be competing for support from evangelical Christians, who oppose abortion rights and gay marriage, and from anti-tax Tea Party supporters. By remaining in the race, Gingrich is splitting that vote rather than allowing it to consolidate behind Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator’s aides said.

In the Ohio primary -- which emerged as Super Tuesday’s most contested race -- Santorum ended up losing to Romney by less than 1 percentage point; 37.9 percent to 37.1 percent. Gingrich ran third with 14.6 percent.

Scratching Your Head

“You look at those numbers and you have to scratch your head and go, ‘You know, if he was out, we’d definitely be up,’” Hogan Gidley, Santorum’s communications director, said.

“It’s time for conservatives to say, ‘Look, we’re going to rally behind one candidate,’” John Brabender, a senior Santorum strategist, told reporters in Steubenville, Ohio. “Rick Santorum is that candidate.”

Santorum won in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota, in the biggest day of voting so far in the Republican nominating contest. Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, now has defeated Romney in seven states.

He was the favorite of voters who described themselves as “very conservative,” winning about half of those voters in Ohio and four in 10 in Oklahoma, according to exit polls taken for the Associated Press and television networks.

Gingrich took Georgia, the state he represented in Congress for 20 years. He has one other victory, in South Carolina in January.

Eight States

In eight Super Tuesday states aside from Georgia and Virginia -- neither Gingrich nor Santorum qualified for the ballot in the latter -- the former U.S. House speaker finished fourth in five and third in three. In only two of these other states -- Oklahoma and Tennessee -- did his vote exceed 15 percent.

In Wyoming, where delegate selections began two days ago at county conventions that end on March 10, Gingrich had no votes, with 26 percent of precincts reporting.

Speaking to supporters gathered for an election-night party in suburban Atlanta, Gingrich compared Santorum to former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Texas Governor Rick Perry and fast-food magnate Herman Cain -- all candidates who surged earlier in the campaign only to drop out after their support fell off.

“Now it’s Santorum,” Gingrich said. “There’s lots of bunny rabbits that run through. I’m the tortoise.”

Gingrich plans to spend two days this week campaigning in Alabama and Mississippi, part of a strategy to revive his candidacy by parlaying the momentum from his Georgia victory into wins in the South.

Santorum is dividing his time between the southern primaries and Kansas, which holds caucuses on March 10.

Kansas Stop

He was in Lenexa, Kansas, for a rally yesterday at a printing company before heading to Tupelo and Jackson, Mississippi.

“We’re in it to win it here in Kansas,” he told a few dozen voters in Lenexa. “We’re going to have a sweep this week starting here in Kansas on Saturday.”

As Gingrich and Santorum vie for Southern states, Romney’s campaign is making the argument that both men should get out of the race because it will be difficult for them to catch the former Massachusetts governor in the delegate hunt.

A candidate needs 1,144 delegates to take the nomination. Romney has won more than half of the delegates awarded to date and now holds almost 40 percent needed to win the nomination, according to a campaign memorandum written to reporters.

Favoring Romney

“Super Tuesday dramatically reduced the likelihood that any of Governor Romney’s opponents can obtain the Republican nomination,” Rich Beeson, Romney’s political director wrote in the memo. “As Governor Romney’s opponents attempt to ignore the basic principles of math, the only person’s odds of winning that are increasing are President Obama’s.”

That argument doesn’t sway Santorum’s supporters, who say that Romney would be no better than Obama on issues like opposing abortion rights and gay marriage.

Hours after Santorum’s victory party in Steubenville, Ohio, supporters headed to a church across the street to try and give their candidate a heavenly assist.

“We’re still praying for him,” said a supporter, as she pulled open the heavy church door.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Lerer in Lenexa, Kansas at llerer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net


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