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Tea party leader urges Gingrich to stay in race

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One of the nation’s top tea party activists said Thursday that Newt Gingrich should stay in the nomination race to ensure that Mitt Romney can’t accumulate the magic number of delegates needed to become the Republican presidential candidate.

Writing on his blog, Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, who has endorsed the former speaker from Georgia, argues that the first priority for conservatives should be to make sure that Mr. Romney fails to get the needed 1,144 delegates to clinch the nomination, producing a contested convention where delegates could work to elect a like-minded conservative. To do that, Mr. Phillips says, both Mr. Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum must continue to win votes that otherwise might go to the former Massachusetts governor.

Mr. Phillips’ call for his candidate to stay the course comes as Mr. Santorum’s backers are stepping up their own demands that Mr. Gingrich leave the race, following his failure to best Mr. Santorum in Tuesday’s Deep South primaries in Mississippi and Alabama.

“The real issue now is stopping Romney,” Mr. Phillips said. “Even Newt admits his primary goal is to stop Romney. Do we have a greater chance of stopping Romney with Newt in or out? The answer is with him in.”

If Mr. Gingrich were to drop out, Mr. Phillips said he fears that not all of his supporters would automatically migrate to Mr. Santorum, who loses a one-on-one battle with Mr. Romney in a recent Fox News poll.

“If Newt drops out, it guarantees a Romney win. The same is true in reverse. If Santorum drops out, it guarantees a Romney win as well,” he said. “Newt and Santorum need each other right now.”

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