Santorum Wins in Louisiana as Romney Struggles in South

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum won Louisiana’s primary, giving him another victory in a region where Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the nomination, has struggled.

Yesterday’s results offer a boost to Santorum and highlight again the trouble Romney has had connecting with voters in the southern part of the U.S., where many are focused on social issues such as abortion. The vote also puts greater pressure on Romney to thwart Santorum in Wisconsin, the next major primary.

“Even though a lot of folks are saying this race is over, people in Louisiana said no, it’s not,” Santorum said today on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

Even with his troubles with Southern voters, Romney is on pace to claim his party’s nomination. Going into the Louisiana vote, the former Massachusetts governor had 563 of the 1,144 delegates needed to win, compared with 263 for Santorum, 135 for former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 50 for U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, according to the AP.

“The bad news for Santorum is a lot of these Southern primaries have come and gone,” said William Mayer, a political science professor at Northeastern University in Boston.

Final Results

With all precincts reporting, Santorum had 49 percent of the vote, according to the Associated Press. Romney had 27 percent, Gingrich 16 percent and Paul 6 percent.

Today Santorum was in Wisconsin, which holds its Republican primary on April 3. Speaking on CBS, Santorum said he is behind in the latest polls there and was being heavily out-spent in television advertising by the Romney campaign and its allies. Even if he doesn’t grab the majority of Wisconsin’s 42 delegates, Santorum said his campaign will remain competitive as the Republican primary fight continues through the spring.

“I don’t agree with the delegate math that the Romney campaign is putting out there,” Santorum said on the program, which he taped while campaigning in Green Bay. “I think we’re in much, much better shape than the numbers that are out there suggest.”

Santorum said that, while Romney’s campaign has designated both Florida and Arizona as ‘winner take all’ states, no state with a primary before April 1 can deliver all their delegates to a single candidate.

Delegate Math

“You’re looking at probably 50 or more delegates that Governor Romney has that will be taken away from him and proportioned between me and mostly Congressman Gingrich,” Santorum said today.

In the Louisiana primary, 20 of the state’s 46 delegates were at stake; most of the rest will be allocated at a state convention on June 2. To qualify for a share of the delegates, a candidate had to get at least 25 percent of the primary vote.

“This is clearly still an open race,” Gingrich said in a statement released by his campaign last night. He vowed to carry his campaign on to the Republican nominating convention.

Santorum’s campaign, in an e-mailed statement, called the results “vindication” for the conservative message put forward by the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, and rejected calls to “fall in line” behind Romney.

Santorum won among voters in all income brackets except for those making more than $200,000 a year, according to exit polls cited by ABC News. While there were fewer evangelicals in Louisiana than in other southern states that have voted, Santorum won them by a wide margin and also dominated among Catholics, ABC said.

Beating Obama

A plurality of the voters said Romney would have the best chance to beat President Barack Obama in the general election, though his margin over Santorum on that question was smaller than in past races, ABC said.

Santorum, 53, has posed the biggest obstacle in the Republican race to Romney, 65, who from the start has had organizational and financial advantages over his rivals. Santorum’s 11 victories in the race include the leadoff Iowa caucuses and contests in Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Santorum, though, has been unable to defeat Romney in large Midwestern states. After Romney scored narrow wins in Ohio and Michigan, his 12-percentage-point victory in the March 20 Illinois primary spurred new calls from some party leaders for Santorum to withdraw. And it prompted former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the brother and son of former presidents, to endorse Romney and call for Republicans to unite behind him.

Romney has won 20 nomination contests in states or U.S. territories.

‘Turning Point’

Santorum spent most of yesterday in Wisconsin, which “is going to be shaping up to maybe be the turning point in this race” he said in Milwaukee. “I suspect that Wisconsin may be the inflection point.”

Maryland and Washington D.C. also hold primaries on April 3, with Romney favored to win both.

Romney campaigned in Louisiana on March 23 and then flew to La Jolla, California, where he owns a vacation home, to prepare for several days of fundraising next week.

Romney’s Illinois win had been overshadowed by a misstep by one of his top advisers, Eric Fehrnstrom, who suggested his candidate would get a fresh start on framing policy positions if he wins the nomination. Fehrnstrom likened the situation to a child’s toy that allows drawings to be easily erased.

‘Reset Button’

“You hit a reset button for the fall campaign,” Fehrnstrom told CNN on March 21. “Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”

Romney’s opponents seized on the comments, saying they validated claims that Romney switches sides on issues and that his commitment to conservative positions is in doubt. Again yesterday, Santorum used the toy as a prop in Wisconsin.

“My public policy isn’t written on an Etch A Sketch,” he said. “It’s written on my heart because I’m a conservative.”

The Louisiana race marked one of the few times Romney and an independent political action committee supporting him didn’t overwhelm the opposition in spending on commercials.

Restore Our Future, the so-called super-PAC backing Romney, put up 1,153 ads on Louisiana broadcast television stations through March 22, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising. It paid an estimated $667,990 to air the spots. Romney’s campaign didn’t air broadcast ads.

Santorum’s campaign and the Red White and Blue Fund, a super-PAC backing his candidacy, together supplied 1,108 ads on broadcast television, at an estimated cost of $457,070, according to CMAG. Of the 1,108 ads, 978 came from the super- PAC, or 88 percent.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kristin Jensen in Washington at kjensen@bloomberg.net; Lisa Lerer in Washington at llerer@bloomberg.net

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

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