Santorum slows Romney’s march with southern sweep (Lead)

March 14th, 2012 - 7:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Bobby Jindal Washington, March 14 (IANS) In a sharp retort to frontrunner Mitt Romney’s prediction that his campaign was reaching a “desperate end”, Rick Santorum turned the Republican nomination battle into a two-man race with wins in Alabama and Mississippi.

Former Massachusetts governor Romney, rejected again by Southern conservatives in the Tuesday primaries, was battling for second place with former speaker Newt Gingrich, who too had banked on the two southern states after winning South Carolina and Georgia.

However, Romney won a consolation prize in Tuesday’s races with victories in the caucuses of Hawaii and the US territory of American Samoa.

In Alabama, former senator Santorum won 35 percent of the vote. Gingrich and Romney both had 29 percent-although Gingrich was about 2,000 votes ahead with 99 percent of the vote counted. House member Ron Paul had five percent.

With 99 percent of the vote counted in Mississippi, Santorum had 33 percent. Gingrich was at 31 percent, Romney at 30 percent and Paul at four percent.

“We did it again,” Santorum, whose Alabama and Mississippi victories give him 10 wins to Romney’s 18, told supporters Tuesday night in Lafayette, Louisiana, which will hold a Republican primary March 24.

The state’s Indian American governor Bobby Jindal is yet to endorse any of the four remaining candidates vying for the right to challenge President Barack Obama in November.

Santorum’s wins in Alabama and Mississippi are somewhat of a surprise, because polls released Monday showed Santorum running 8-10 points behind Romney and Gingrich in the two states.

Still, because Alabama’s 47 delegates and Mississippi’s 37 delegates will be awarded proportionally, Romney appeared to maintain his delegate lead and may add to this after more moderate Hawaii’s 17 delegates are distributed.

A CNN delegate estimate early Wednesday showed Romney with a 489-234 lead over Santorum, giving him a 255-delegate margin.

The estimate had Gingrich at 139 delegates and Paul at 66. The number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination is 1,144.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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