- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rick Santorum won the Republican primary in Louisiana on Saturday, giving the former Pennsylvania senator additional crowing rights going forward in the GOP presidential fight and further cementing him as the biggest rival to front-runner Mitt Romney.

While the victory is not expected to dramatically shake up the chase toward the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination, it should provide Mr. Santorum with some cover from the growing chorus of Republicans who say it is time for the party to coalesce around Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.

The Associated Press called the race for Mr. Santorum minutes after the polls closed, giving him another win in the Deep South.

With all the precincts counted, Mr. Santorum had 49 percent to 26.7 percent for Mr. Romney. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia was at 15.9 percent, and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas had 6.1 percent.


“The people of Louisiana sent a loud and clear message: This race is long and far from over,” said Mr. Santorum, speaking from the campaign trail in Green Bay, Wis. The ex-senator also blasted out a fundraising email in which he took a few swipes at Mr. Romney’s conservative credentials.

“In spite of Romney heavily spending and campaigning there, the people of Louisiana saw through the lies and negative campaigning to vote for the authentic conservative,” Mr. Santorum said in the email. “The reason why our campaign is winning in state after state is because people want an authentic, strong conservative leader to take on Barack Obama and not someone who just talks a good conservative game.”

The outcome is sure to renew questions about Mr. Gingrich’s argument for staying in the race, which at this point has basically devolved into an effort aimed at blocking Mr. Romney from collecting the magic number of delegates needed to win the nomination outright before the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., late this summer.

Mr. Gingrich won the South Carolina primary in January, and since then, his campaign’s only true bright spot was his expected victory earlier this month in Georgia, which he represented in Congress for 20 years.

The ex-speaker, though, appears to have no intention of exiting the race before the convention.

“This is clearly still an open race,” he said. “So, on behalf of the more than 176,000 Americans who have donated to Newt 2012, I will carry our solution-oriented campaign to Tampa.”

Exit polls showed that Mr. Santorum once again enjoyed strong support from born-again and evangelical Christian voters, conservatives and those who “strongly support” the tea party movement.

Only 20 delegates were up for grabs in the election, and 26 are scheduled to be doled out at a later date.

Whatever the final vote count and delegate haul, Mr. Romney will hold a significant lead over his rivals heading into a part of the nomination calendar that appears to be tailor-made for his campaign.

Heading into the night, Mr. Romney held 563 delegates — 300 delegates more than Mr. Santorum’s 263. Mr. Gingrich sat atop 135, and Mr. Ron Paul held 50.

Voters will go to the polls in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Wisconsin on April 3 in three winner-take-all contests in which 98 delegates are up for grabs. Mr. Santorum’s shoestring campaign failed to get on the ballot in the nation’s capital, forfeiting the chance for 19 delegates.

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