Bloomberg News

Santorum Wins in South; Gingrich Falters

March 14, 2012

Rick Santorum at his primary night watch party in Lafayette, Louisiana on March 13, 2012. Photographer: Gerald Herbert/AP

Rick Santorum at his primary night watch party in Lafayette, Louisiana on March 13, 2012. Photographer: Gerald Herbert/AP

Rick Santorum won the Alabama (BEESAL) and Mississippi (BEESMS) Republican presidential primaries, strengthening his status as Mitt Romney’s main challenger and dealing a setback to Newt Gingrich.

Romney ran third in yesterday’s races, dashing his hopes for showings in the Deep South that would have cemented his front-runner position for the party’s nomination.

“We did it again,” Santorum told supporters last night in Lafayette, Louisiana. “He spent a whole lot of money against me for being inevitable” he said, referring to Romney.

In Alabama, with 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Santorum had 34.5 percent of the vote, according to the Associated Press tally. Gingrich had 29.3 percent and Romney 29 percent, with Gingrich running ahead by about 2,000 votes. U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas had 5 percent.

In Mississippi, with all but one precinct out of 1,889 counted, Santorum had 32.8 percent of the vote, Gingrich 31.2 percent and Romney 30.6 percent, according to the AP tally. Gingrich’s margin over Romney was just under 1,700 votes. Paul trailed with 4.4 percent.

Romney won the Hawaii caucuses, garnering 45 percent of the vote to Santorum’s 25 percent, with all precincts reporting, the AP said. He also won the caucus in American Samoa, according to the AP.

Republican Bastions

The victories for Santorum, who has now won 10 contests, showed he can outdo Romney in Republican bastions. Romney has won 18 races and Gingrich has two victories, including one in his home state of Georgia.

Santorum’s supporters want to drive Gingrich from the race to consolidate the opposition to Romney, who leads by more than 2-1 in the hunt for convention delegates. Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker from Georgia, had staked his campaign on doing well in the South.

Gingrich gave no sign he planned to end his candidacy. Speaking to supporters last night in Birmingham, Alabama, he repeatedly talked of “going to Tampa,” referring to the August Republican National Convention in that Florida city.

Gingrich focused on disputing Romney’s strength in the Republican race.

“The elite media’s effort to convince the nation that Mitt Romney is the inevitable candidate just collapsed,” he said. “If you’re a front-runner and you keep coming in third, you’re not much of a front-runner.”

‘Mano-a-Mano’

Republican strategist Keith Appell in an e-mail last night was among those calling on Gingrich to quit. “Newt has given it a great run, but Rick Santorum has earned a mano-a-mano shot at Mitt Romney,” Appell said.

Illinois, Puerto Rico and Louisiana are among states holding contests later this month. In April, the candidates will vie for votes in the delegate-rich states of New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, among others.

Santorum, who was campaigning today in Puerto Rico, is closing the gap with Romney in Illinois, according to a Chicago Tribune/WGN poll taken March 7-9. Romney had 35 percent, Santorum 31 percent, Gingrich 12 percent and Paul 7 percent, the newspaper reported. The poll’s margin of error was plus-or-minus 4 percentage points, and 46 percent of voters said they could change their minds before the state’s March 20 primary.

Restore Our Future, an independent political committee supporting Romney, paid for 927 broadcast television ads in Illinois as of March 12, according to data from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising. The ads cost an estimated $455,950.

‘Washington Politician’

Romney’s campaign began airing an ad today in Illinois that attacks Santorum’s lack of business and executive experience and describes him as a “Washington politician” who voted in the Senate for the local spending projects known as earmarks.

Romney campaigned yesterday in Missouri (BEESMO), which will hold caucuses on March 17. In an interview aired late yesterday afternoon on CNN, Romney said Santorum was “at the desperate end of his campaign.” He made the comment when asked about a pro-Santorum ad that attacks Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts.

He later flew to New York without making any public comments about the Alabama and Mississippi results.

In an e-mailed statement after the outcomes were clear, Romney congratulated Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, while saying he was “pleased that we will be increasing our delegate count in a very substantial way.”

Delegate Count

His campaign increasingly has been stressing Romney’s advantages in accumulating delegates.

In yesterday’s primary races, 90 delegates were at stake, 50 in Alabama and 40 in Mississippi, most awarded in proportion to how each candidate did in the balloting.

Based on partial allocation of those delegates, Romney now has 495 of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination, compared with 252 for Santorum and 131 for Gingrich, according to AP estimates. Paul has 48 delegates.

Romney has struggled to win evangelical Christians and social conservatives who are skeptical of his positions on such issues as abortion and gay marriage.

Santorum and Gingrich have argued that the Republican primary fight has demonstrated Romney would make a poor challenger to Obama.

Women Voters

In both Alabama and Mississippi, exit polls showed that Santorum had the highest percentage of women voters. He also won the plurality of voters under age 64 and those identifying themselves as white evangelicals.

As they campaigned across the South, the three leading candidates -- with the help of super-political action committees -- exchanged verbal jabs in advertisements on the airways. Super-PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign activity, as long as they don’t coordinate with candidates.

Romney and his allies dominated the airwaves in Alabama and Mississippi, according to CMAG.

Of the 7,138 broadcast ads that aired in the two states in the past 30 days, 64 percent came from Romney or his super-PAC, 21 percent were from Gingrich or his super-PAC and 15 percent were from Santorum’s super-PAC.

To contact the reporters on this story: Catherine Dodge in Washington at cdodge1@bloomberg.net; Hans Nichols in Washington at hnichols2@bloomberg.net

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


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