Santorum wins Louisiana

WASHINGTON — Rick Santorum vowed to remain in the race after turning in an easy victory in the Louisiana primary, even though he still badly trails front-runner Mitt Romney and faces a nearly impossible task to win enough delegates to secure the Republican presidential nomination.

WASHINGTON — Rick Santorum vowed to remain in the race after turning in an easy victory in the Louisiana primary, even though he still badly trails front-runner Mitt Romney and faces a nearly impossible task to win enough delegates to secure the Republican presidential nomination.

With all Louisiana precincts reporting, Santorum captured 49 per cent of the vote to 27 per cent for Romney. Newt Gingrich, was far back at 16 per cent, followed by Ron Paul with 6 per cent.

Although the victory gives Santorum bragging rights and 10 more delegates, it does not change the overall dynamics of the race. The former Pennsylvania senator still dramatically lags behind Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, in the battle for delegates to the party’s August nominating convention in Tampa, Florida.

Santorum on Sunday told voters in Wisconsin that Romney is “uniquely disqualified” to be the Republican’s presidential pick and urged his supporters to stand with him even as he faces an increasingly improbable pathway to the nomination.

The Saturday vote in Louisiana gave Romney five delegates and five will be designated as uncommitted.

With the state-by-state primary and caucus contests more than half complete, Santorum has won just 27 per cent of the delegates. Romney has been accumulating delegates at a 54-per cent clip. Most of the remaining states award delegates proportionally based on primary results, making it even more difficult for Santorum to close the gap.

The odds would seem to rule out nomination of Santorum. But as he savored his victory in Louisiana, the ultraconservative vowed to remain in the battle. Santorum was campaigning in Wisconsin, which holds its primary on April 3.

“Even though a lot of folks are saying this race is over, the people in Louisiana said, ‘No, it’s not.’ They still want to see someone who they can trust, someone who’s not running an Etch a Sketch campaign, but one who has their principals written on their heart, not on an erasable tablet,” Santorum said Sunday on CBS television’s Face the Nation.

“And I think that’s what helped us deliver the win in Louisiana, and I think we’re going to do very well up here in Wisconsin, too.”

Santorum was referring to a comment last week by a top Romney campaign adviser implying that once nominated “everything changes” for Romney “like an Etch a Sketch,” referring to a mechanical drawing toy that just needs shaking for the image to vanish. The comment implied that Romney would be able to move his positions more to the centre of the political specturm in the general election campaign.

The remark fueled long-standing criticism that Romney, who has held more moderate views in the past on sensitive issues such as abortion and gay rights, moulds his principles to fit political goals and lacks conservative convictions.

But the Republican establishment is increasingly coalescing around Romney’s candidacy out of concern that an extended nomination fight could hurt the party’s chances against President Barack Obama. The Democratic incumbent faces no serious primary challenge and his re-election campaign already is well under way.

An influential Republican senator said on Sunday that the nominating race was all but finished.

“I think the primary is over. Romney will be the nominee,” South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham told CNN. “The fat lady hasn’t sung yet. But she’s warming up.”

Romney has churned through the nomination contest with a huge financial and organizational advantage, further dimming the likelihood that Santorum will pull off the nearly impossible task. His campaign staff rubbed that in after Santorum’s Saturday victory.

“Rick Santorum is like a football team celebrating a field goal (a 3-point score) when they are losing by seven touchdowns (42 points) with less than a minute left in the game,” said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams, who was at Santorum’s sparsely attended victory party in Green Bay, Wisconsin. That state holds its primary on April 3.

Romney remains far ahead with 568 delegates to Santorum’s 273, according to an Associated Press tally. Newt Gingrich follows with 135 and Ron Paul has 50.

Romney is just short of half the 1,144 delegates it will take to clinch the nomination ahead of the convention this summer in Tampa, Florida, while Santorum is shy of accumulating a quarter of the needed delegates. His organizational disadvantage will show again in the District of Columbia primary, also on April 3, where Santorum failed to get on the ballot.

Neither Santorum nor Romney, who took a day off from campaigning, was in Louisiana for the voting Saturday. Both candidates were already looking to the upcoming contests.

Santorum badly needed a rebound after a decisive Illinois loss to Romney earlier in the week that moved party stalwarts to rally around the front-runner. Many urged Santorum and Gingrich to drop out of the race, but both refused.

Obama remains vulnerable among voters who have suffered mightily through the recession, the worst economic downturn in the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The president’s standing in the polls has shown some progress with voters as the economy begins to pick up, but the recovery is fragile and rising gas prices remain a sore point.

Santorum made a number of television appearances on Sunday and planned a busy day of campaigning in Wisconsin. Aides are looking ahead to the Midwestern state as a bright spot, as well as to Pennsylvania, the delegate-rich state Santorum represented in Congress.

But Romney’s campaign is airing TV ads in the state, and his super Political Action Committee allies have plowed more than $2 million into TV advertising in Wisconsin. A crush of advertising — mostly negative — eroded Santorum’s strength in states such as Michigan, Ohio and Illinois as he simply couldn’t keep pace.

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