Rick Santorum has made a clean sweep of the Deep South primaries, taking Mississippi and Alabama in victories that put pressure on Newt Gingrich to bow out and set up a showdown in Illinois next week with the struggling favourite, Mitt Romney.
|Republican U.S. presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum gives a thumbs up to supporters after speaking at his Alabama and Mississippi primary election night rally in Lafayette, Louisiana, March 13, 2012. |
Gingrich came second, with Romney third and Ron Paul a distant fourth. Although Gingrich vowed to carry on, if he cannot win Mississippi or Alabama, he has little chance of winning anywhere else. He goes to Chicago for a fund-raising event on Wednesday and is likely also to hold a postmortem with his backers to discuss the viability of fighting on.
If Gingrich bows out and the conservative vote rallies around Santorum, he would be well placed to take on Romney in Illinois, one of the biggest states in contention.
Santorum, at an election party in Louisiana, one of the upcoming contests, said there was nothing inevitable about Romney winning the Republican nomination to take on Barack Obama in November, even with all the millions of dollars behind him.
Invoking his faith right at the start of his speech, he said: "I want to thank God for giving us the strength every day to go out there."
Santorum is on a roll. His wins in Mississippi and Alabama come on top of victories in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota on Super Tuesday and Kansas at the weekend. He is almost certain to take Missouri this weekend, having already beaten Romney there by a two-to-one margin in a non-binding vote last month. That sets him up for Illinois next week. He is then likely to take Louisiana a few days later.
Santorum has been fighting the primaries and caucuses on a shoestring, spending little on political advertising, making his victories on Tuesday night all the more remarkable. He goes into Illinois where Romney and his supporters have more than $3 million worth of negative ads waiting to fall on him.
Exit polls in Alabama and Mississippi showed evangelical Christians, who tend not to vote for Romney, a Mormon, made up about eight out of ten of the voters. Four out of ten voters in both states said it mattered to them that a candidate shared their religious beliefs.
The Alabama totals were 34.5% for Santorum, 29.3% for Gingrich, and 29% for Romney. In Mississippi, Santorum got 32.8%, Gingrich 31.2% and Romney 30.6% according to the AP with just over 99% of precincts reporting.
Gingrich has so far won only South Carolina and his home state Georgia and held high hopes of taking Alabama. His election night party on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama, was closer to a wake than a celebration and, in spite of his defiant remarks, he looked crestfallen. This was, realistically, his last chance of winning a state.
He turned on Romney, describing him as the "hand-picked candidate of the media" and disputed Romney's front-runner label. "If you are the front-runner and you keep coming in third, you are not much of a front-runner. I do not believe a Massachusetts moderate is going to be in any position to win any debates this fall ... We need someone who can go toe-to-toe with Barack Obama." RC Hammond, Gingrich's press spokesman, last week described Alabama and Mississippi as "must-win" states for him. Asked about this Tuesday, he tried to laugh away the quote: "Whoever said that should be flogged." Revising his line, he said on Tuesday: "Tomorrow the sun comes up and we will go to Chicago and on to Tampa."
It was not a totally disastrous night for Romney. Mississippi and Alabama are two of the poorest and most conservative states, probably the hardest two for Romney in the whole of America, but he managed to be competitive and will take a share of the delegates to the party convention in Florida in August where the nomination will be formally decided.
Hawaii and American Samoa were also voting Tuesday and they were expected to fall for Romney. There were 50 delegates at stake in Alabama, 40 in Mississippi, 20 in Hawaii and nine in Samoa.
The combination of the delegates Romney picked up from Mississippi and Alabama, along with those he is likely to get from Hawaii and American Samoa, means he could, in the end, emerge from Tuesday with more than Santorum.
— The Guardian, TAAN