RAY SUAREZ: There were still four candidates today in the Republican presidential race, but, increasingly, the focus was on Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, after Santorum bested the frontrunner in Alabama and Mississippi.
Rick Santorum celebrated his victories last night in Lafayette, La., and said they make him the one true conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.
RICK SANTORUM (R): The time is now for conservatives to pull together. The time is now to make sure, to make sure that we have the best chance to win this election. And the best chance to win this election is to nominate a conservative to go up against Barack Obama.
RAY SUAREZ: From there, it was off to Puerto Rico, ahead of the primary there on Sunday, with 23 delegates at stake. In San Juan, Santorum again argued it’s now between Romney and himself.
Romney had sounded confident yesterday, on CNN, before learning he had finished third in both Alabama and Mississippi.
MITT ROMNEY (R): Sen. Santorum is at the desperate end of his campaign and is trying in some way to boost his prospects.
RAY SUAREZ: Today on FOX, Romney insisted he’s still on the road to ultimate victory.
MITT ROMNEY: Some who are very conservative may not be yet in my camp, but they will be when I become the nominee, when I face Barack Obama.
RAY SUAREZ: And the Romney campaign issued a public memo that said, “While Rick Santorum is taking a victory lap after Alabama and Mississippi, the fact remains that nothing has changed or advanced his chances of getting the Republican nomination.”
In fact, despite Santorum’s victories Tuesday, it was Romney who took away the most delegates from the day’s contests. According to the Associated Press, Romney earned at least 41 delegates from caucus wins in Hawaii and American Samoa, plus proportional awards in Mississippi and Alabama. That brought his total to 495, more than his three rivals combined.
Santorum took away 35 delegates on Tuesday, bringing his total to 252. Newt Gingrich won at least 24, giving him 131 delegates overall. Ron Paul picked up just one delegate on the night. His total is now 48.
Gingrich finished second in both Alabama and Mississippi, raising fresh questions about his ability to continue. But in Birmingham last night, he vowed to fight on.
NEWT GINGRICH (R): And the biggest challenge will be raising money because we came in second, which isn’t as much as we wanted, and we will have gotten delegates. We’ll get — between Santorum and myself, we will get over two-thirds of the delegates, and the so-called frontrunner will get less than one-third of the delegates.
RAY SUAREZ: Gingrich campaigned today in Illinois, where 69 delegates are up for grabs next Tuesday. The candidates are also pointing toward the Missouri caucuses on Saturday with 52 delegates to be won.
JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on the contests ahead and the path forward for the Republican hopefuls, we turn to Dante Chinni, director of Patchwork Nation, a reporting collaboration with the NewsHour and others that examines economic, social and political trends, and NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni.
Thank you both for being here.
Christina, there was thinking ahead of Alabama and Mississippi that Mitt Romney was in the hunt, he had a good chance of winning. What happened?
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Well, the campaign felt like he really had a good chance of winning. They devoted a lot of time there. They sent the candidate there. They sent a lot of his surrogates there.
And Santorum didn’t lead a single poll heading into these two races. And they thought, okay, if Romney can win in the South this will really suggest that this is done and done. However, what ended up happening was the voters in Mississippi and Alabama basically said that they wanted two things in a candidate, strong moral character and true conservative.
We’ve seen that pattern play out in all these states where Santorum wins those two things according to exit polls, but Romney wins the people who want to beat Barack Obama. There were just fewer of those types of people that showed up on Tuesday.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But Mitt Romney had more money, had more television ads up. He had the superior organization. He had big-name endorsements.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Yeah. He had both governors in the state. He had a lot of people out there as surrogates talking about him. He had a lot of congressional endorsements.
And the Restore Our — the Romney super PAC, the super PAC that’s backing him, it is not aligned with the campaign, ran 65 percent of all the ads in these two states. And Romney himself ran a lot of ads as well. They were really putting a lot of effort into this.
And it’s important to point out that the super PAC for Rick Santorum, while they advertised, they advertised far less in both of these states. And the Santorum campaign didn’t advertise at all on television in these two states. This was all him going out and campaigning entering these votes. And the organization has mattered in other places, but it didn’t matter as much last night.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Dante, you’ve been looking at all these states. Tell us about the kind of voters Mitt Romney is winning over.
DANTE CHINNI, Patchwork Nation: Well, what he’s done so far everywhere he’s gone pretty much is he wins — and you see it in exit poll after exit poll — better educated, wealthier voters. And he does well — it’s almost like you can go up the income scale and kind of look Romney’s percentage. You can watch it grow and grow. Same is true of education.
The way we look at it through Patchwork Nation, we break the country into these different county types. What that means for us, he does well in these places we call the wealthy suburbs, the money burbs, these places we call boomtowns, kind of exurban areas that grew very well. College towns, he tends to do very well.
And then he often does well in big cities. Now in big cities in general elections will go Democratic almost always, but when you’re talking about a Republican primary, Republicans come out to vote, there are a lot of wealthier, better-educated folks that live in those communities and they vote for Mitt Romney.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So conversely, Romney is losing which kind of voters?
DANTE CHINNI: Yeah, he’s struggling with two things.
A lot of people talk about the social conservative problem he has. He is not able to win over those cultural issues that Santorum does well in. That’s true. But there’s also a lot of down-income problem that Romney has. When you get to these lower-income places, places we call small town service worker centers, he doesn’t do well in. These places we call evangelical epicenters, obviously, a lot of evangelicals, he does very poorly in those places.
And these aging empty nests, he doesn’t do very well in those places either.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we should mention while we’re talking to you that our viewers can see all of this on our website, the Patchwork Nation, the regular feature we have there, where you have got this all broken down.
And just quickly, has Romney expanded his appeal among the electorate since Iowa?
DANTE CHINNI: No. In fact, and you can look at this on the map that we have on the Patchwork Nation site.
But we’re pretty much locked in a stalemate between Santorum and Romney. If you go back to Iowa, Santorum has won the communities he’s won and Romney’s won the communities he’s won. And, really, Santorum has actually started to pick up a little steam in those suburban areas, but that’s about the only change I have seen.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Christina, what is the path forward for Rick Santorum? Yes, he won yesterday these two contests. He has some momentum, but Romney’s way ahead in delegates.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Right. It’s not completely impossible for Rick Santorum to be able to get there with the number in the same way that Romney would be able to almost get there.
But it’s not as likely when you look at those things, the organization. It remains a difficult thing for him. One thing I would watch out for is the money because Santorum is now able to raise a lot of money because of his momentum, particularly because of his wins. You saw he had two strong months in January and February. You know, he’s probably raising a lot now.
And they’re not spending a lot of money either. He has a pretty lean campaign operation. And Romney is spending a ton of money in both the super PAC and his organization, really having to burn through that with this long race ahead.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So as you look, Dante, at the states that are coming up, Illinois and a little bit later we’ve got Pennsylvania and New York, the kinds of voters, are they the kind that would advantage Romney?
DANTE CHINNI: Right. Right.
When I look at Illinois — look Missouri is this weekend. Missouri could be very good for Santorum, a lot of evangelicals there. Illinois does not look good for him. There’s so much based around Chicago, and that’s a big city. And there’s those wealthy suburbs around Chicago. That should be Romney vote.
We talked a little bit before, though, that’s Barack Obama’s hometown. And you wonder — I have got to look at whether or not it’s an open primary, but if Democrats come out and vote for Santorum just to vote for him. Santorum obviously should do well in Pennsylvania, but he will struggle in places like New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island. I would imagine he would struggle.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Because?
DANTE CHINNI: It’s just a more urban, wealthier environment. Even Connecticut, you think of the rolling hills of Connecticut, but a lot of Connecticut, I don’t — no offense to people who live there — it’s suburban New York in some ways. And that should be good for Romney.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So Christina, when we hear Newt Gingrich saying — in fact I heard him say in an interview today — he said all four of us are going to be in the same place when get to Tampa and the convention, he said, because none of us is going to have the delegates at that point to clinch the nomination, is he right about that?
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: He’s partially right.
It’s really all projections, because if you base what has happened and the types of voters Romney has been able to win and the percentage he’s been able to win and collect these delegates. — and these are proportional states for the most part. The are a fewer winner-take-all delegate states, but the RNC’s rules this year basically doles them out a few of the time.
So if Romney keeps getting a third of the voters, he’s not quite going to get there, or maybe he will just barely pass at the very end of June, when Utah has its primary. So, in that sense. . .
JUDY WOODRUFF: Utah.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Yes.
But in that sense — if the projections hold, but there are a few caveats to that. Texas, there’s a new poll out showing Santorum has a lead there. If he’s able to get a lot of delegates in that very big state in late May, that could shift things slightly.
But what the Gingrich people are really saying, it’s the brokered convention message. And it’s fascinating the way they’re talking about doing this. I have talked to a few people today who basically say they’re treating it like a whip operation for a speaker’s race. They’re trying to target these unbound delegates who are party activists, elected at the local level in all of these states, to say vote for us on the second round of balloting, we’re going to represent true conservatives.
I mean it’s really a lobbying campaign on individual people.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What is the story on these delegates, though? To what extent are they bound to the person they have so far pledged to be with?
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: This is a great question and one we have been looking at a lot on the show.
I think in some states they’re totally bound. In some states it’s a little bit more flexible. And in some states they’re not bound at all. And that was the case. We saw that with Iowa and we’ve seen that in other places. And the Ron Paul people are actually making a huge effort here.
They have been working the Nevada state party level and local party level to be able to get their people within that infrastructure to take those people to the convention that are going to favor them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The other candidate in all of this, Dante, is, of course, Ron Paul, who isn’t — we haven’t spent a whole lot of time talking about him.
What kind of voters is he pulling? We know the numbers are small, but who is he pulling and is there hope for him in the states ahead when you look at the profile of the electorate?
DANTE CHINNI: Again, if you’re going by what’s happened so far, you can’t think there’s a whole lot of hope ahead because he just hasn’t done very well so far.
Who does he do well with? He tends to do well actually with younger voters, obviously. If you go to a Ron Paul event, you’ll find a lot of younger voters there. He also does tend to do well with a branch that really isn’t about age or income or anything. It’s strictly about this libertarian point of view, and like anti-Fed, anti-Washington.
It’s a small group of people. And it’s hard to see him doing very well in the primaries that are coming up. But he’s not going anywhere because he’s a message candidate. And he’s going to stick around and get his point out.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the roller coaster continues.
Dante Chinni, Christina Bellantoni, thank you both.
DANTE CHINNI: Thanks.