Ben Johnson

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Santorum’s Southern Sweep

Ben Johnson

Updatedat 17:37 on March 14 to add statement from Richard Viguerie.

LAFAYETTE, LOUISIANA, March 14, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – With momentum from two hotly contested victories last night, Rick Santorum can credibly make the case the Republican primary is a two-man race. But his chief rival for conservative voters, Newt Gingrich, has not only denied he is leaving the race, but has proposed a tacit agreement for the two to work together to deny Mitt Romney the nomination.

In a dramatic turnaround, Rick Santorum won both the Alabama and Mississippi primaries on Tuesday. Newt Gingrich placed a close second in both states. However, although Santorum won the popular votes in these two states, Romney still came out ahead in terms of delegates won, winning both the Hawaiian and American Samoa caucuses, racking up 42 delegates to Santorum’s 38, according to the Associated Press.

Just two days before the election, polls showed Romney defeating Santorum by as much as 12 points in Mississippi.

As of this writing, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, Santorum is in first in Mississippi with 33 percent of the vote to Gingrich’s 31 percent. Romney places third with 30 percent. Santorum also won Alabama, garnering 35 percent of the vote. Gingrich and Romney both earned 29 percent, although Gingrich led Romney by a few hundred votes.

“We did it again,” Santorum began his victory speech in Lafayette, Louisiana – another key Southern state, which holds its primary on March 24. “I don’t think there was a single poll that had me anywhere close to winning Mississippi. Not one.”

Exit polls showed Santorum won both the female and the Catholic vote in Mississippi. The 56 percent of Alabama Republicans who were most concerned about the economy split evenly among the three frontrunners in both states. Mitt Romney had won these demographics in most of the contests to date.

Drawing a contrast with Romney, who has presented himself as the inevitable nominee, Santorum said, “Everybody’s talking about all the [delegate] math, and that his race is inevitable. Well, for someone who thinks this race is inevitable, he’s spent a whole lot of money in this race against me for being inevitable.”

The Massachusetts governor’s supporters spent more than both his rivals combined. The Super PAC supporting Romney’s candidacy, Restore Our Future PAC spent roughly $2.3 million in the two states. Santorum’s Red, White, and Blue Fund and Gingrich’s Winning Our Future PAC each invested a little more than half-a-million dollars.

“The notion that Mitt Romney is inevitable just collapsed,” Newt Gingrich told supporters in Birmingham. “The fact is in both states, the conservative candidates just got 70 percent of the vote. If you’re the frontrunner and you keep coming in third, you’re not much of a frontrunner.”

Santorum won despite spending the least of the three major candidates. “This is a grassroots campaign for president,” Santorum said. “In spite of all the odds,” with “all the Establishment being on the other side of this race, you stood with a guy who is the grandson of a coal miner who comes from a steel town in western Pennsylvania.”

In a nod to voters whose top priority is the economy, Santorum focused his speech on “free people, free markets.”

The results seemed to buoy Gingrich’s optimism. Although he had said he needed to win the primaries, last night he said he was satisfied that his campaign had injected ideas into the race. His proposal for $2.50-a-gallon gasoline, which the president’s press secretary recently criticized, had been “changing the national dialogue all week,” he said.

The former House Speaker promised to fight on, because, “I believe we need a visionary leader who is prepared to talk about a dramatically better America, with dramatically more jobs, dramatically more energy, and a safer and stronger America.”

Neither Mitt Romney nor Ron Paul scheduled a media event last night. However, Romney did receive good news last night, winning caucuses in Hawaii and American Samoa.

Congressman Paul finished in single digits, placing him a distant fourth.

The results bolster Santorum’s contention that he is the conservative challenger most likely to topple Romney.

Though he did not call on Gingrich to leave the race, he said the “time is now for conservatives to pull together. The time is now to make sure, to make sure that we have the best chance to win this election, and the best chance to win this election is to nominate a conservative to go up against Barack Obama, who can take him on on every issue.”

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The candidate told Fox News that conservatives “have pretty much made a decision” on a candidate. “It’s very, very clear that outside of Speaker Gingrich’s backyard, if you will, we’re the candidate who’s taking it to Mitt Romney,” he said.

Santorum backers Richard Viguerie and Gary Bauer have said it is time for Newt Gingrich to leave the race.

“Having run myself, I know how difficult it can be when you are in the arena and asked to step aside,” Bauer said last week. “But the overwhelming sentiment was that [Gingrich] could most help the conservative cause by standing with Santorum, so that voters have a clear choice in the remaining primaries.”

“One of three people in my opinion is going to be the next president of the United States: Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, or Rick Santorum,” Richard Viguerie told LifeSiteNews.com.

Yet Gingrich remained defiant, vowing to take his message “all the way to Tampa,” the site of this year’s Republican National Convention.

As an alternate strategy, Gingrich has proposed he and Santorum continue to amass enough delegates to deny Romney the nomination, then allow party stalwarts to have a “60-day discussion” on who should be the nominee before the convention.

Veteran political activist Richard Viguerie of ConservativeHQ.com told LifeSiteNews.com last month a brokered convention may not nominate Romney, even if he has the most delegates.

“The candidate with the most delegates is not the one who wins,” Viguerie said. “The one who is the nominee is the one with the most votes in Tampa, Florida, next August – and there’s a big difference between those two.”

Earlier this week, Santorum told reporters he was confident he would win the GOP nomination if no one attained the 1,144 delegates necessary to secure the top slot outright.

Update: Richard Viguerie sent this announcement this afternoon about Gingrich’s candidacy:

“I’m not asking my old friend Newt Gingrich to quit the fight to elect a conservative President.  I’m asking Newt and his supporters and campaign team to join Rick Santorum’s campaign for President to ensure that we win that fight.

“Over the long span of his career, no one—save Ronald Reagan—did more while in public office to advance the conservative cause than did Newt Gingrich.

“Far from asking Newt to withdraw from the fight to nominate a movement conservative for President, I am asking that he take a leading role—perhaps the pivotal role—in that battle, by throwing the weight of his formidable intellect and political skills behind Rick Santorum.

“As the results in primary after primary have shown, the united conservative vote far exceeds that of the establishment’s favored candidate, Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney.

“If Romney is the nominee, most conservatives believe he will do little more than slow our race toward fiscal and social bankruptcy.

“Yet, as long as conservatives are divided, there is a very real possibility that a moderate like Governor Romney, or someone else hand selected by party bosses at a deadlocked convention, may become the Republican nominee.

“Speaker Gingrich can change the calculus of the campaign and the direction of this country by joining Rick Santorum to build a conservative governing majority.

“If there is a conservative such as Rick Santorum in the White House, it would create a host of new possibilities for Speaker Gingrich to advance the conservative policies he has advocated so capably these many years of his public service.  A Romney White House, on the other hand, would be indifferent, if not overtly hostile, to Newt Gingrich and his vision of conservative government.

“I well remember the evenings in the 1970s and 1980s when I used to strategize with Newt Gingrich how to elect a conservative Congress.  Over our long friendship, whenever we were facing an uphill political battle, we remained confident in victory because we knew we had the power of conservative ideas on our side.  Today, I urge my old friend Newt to unify the conservative movement, not by quitting the fight, but by joining Rick Santorum to win it.”

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