Santorum wins; Romney pads delegate lead

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Bolstering his claim that he’s the strongest conservative in the Republican presidential field, Rick Santorum swept the Alabama and Mississippi primaries on Tuesday, sending a strong signal to Mitt Romney that the GOP front-runner still isn’t connecting with a big chunk of the party’s deeply conservative base.

The twin victories, though, were not enough for Mr. Santorum to make up ground on Mr. Romney in the chase toward the 1,144 delegates needed to wrap up the nomination, as the former Massachusetts governor would later emerge victorious in the smaller caucus contests in Hawaii and American Samoa — ending the day with bigger delegate gains compared to his rivals.

The Associated Press called both states for the former Pennsylvania senator shortly after 10:30 p.m., capping a fast-moving seven days that saw Mr. Santorum, Mr. Romney and Newt Gingrich campaign furiously for votes across the Deep South.

With 98 percent of the precincts counted in Alabama, Mr. Santorum pulled in 38 percent of the vote; Mr. Gingrich, 23 percent; and Mr. Romney, 23 percent, according to the AP. In Mississippi, Mr. Santorum held 35 percent; Mr. Gingrich, 32 percent; and Mr. Romney, 32 percent with 99 percent of the precincts counted.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who finished in single digits in both primaries, basically skipped the southern states to focus his money and energy elsewhere — though he did pick up a single delegate in the Hawaii caucuses.

Taken together, Mr. Romney walked away with at least 40 delegates and Mr. Santorum won at least 34, while Newt Gingrich added at least 24 delegates and Ron Paul got at least 1, according to the AP.

There were more than 107 delegates to the Republican National Convention up for grabs Tuesday: 47 in Alabama, 37 in Mississippi, 17 in Hawaii caucuses and six more in caucuses in American Samoa.

At an election-night party in Lafayette, La., Mr. Santorum opened his victory speech with, “We did it again.”

Promising supporters that he plans to “compete everywhere” in the upcoming contests, the former Pennsylvania senator said, “The time is now for conservatives to pull together. The time is now 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.”

The good news for the Santorum campaign was generally viewed as bad news for Mr. Gingrich, the former Georgia congressman who had predicted he would win in both Southern states.

But in his comments to supporters in Birmingham, Ala., the former House speaker and longtime Georgia congressman made it clear he has no intentions of stepping aside before the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla., in August.

“I emphasize going to Tampa because one of the things tonight proves is that the elite media’s attempts to convince the nation that Mitt Romney is inevitable just collapsed,” he said to cheers.

“I don’t believe that a Massachusetts moderate that created ‘Romneycare’ as the forerunner of ‘Obamneycare’ is going to be in a position to win any of the debates this fall. And that is part of the reason I insisted on staying in the race,” he said, linking together the universal health care system Mr. Romney signed into law in Massachusetts with President Obama’s federal health care overhaul.

The Romney campaign put a positive spin on the night by pointing out that since neither Alabama nor Mississippi is a “winner-take-all” state, the former governor had still added to his delegate total.

The campaign didn’t schedule an election-night party, but congratulated Mr. Santorum in a late-night statement.

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