Santorum Sweeps Alabama, Mississippi; Romney Takes Third

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  March 14, 2012 at 9:18 AM EST

Rick Santorum; photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Rick Santorum addresses supporters in Lafayette, La., after winning Tuesday’s Alabama and Mississippi primaries. Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

In the battle for the hearts and minds of Republican voters, it appears that the hearts won out on Tuesday.

“The time is now for conservatives to pull together,” former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told supporters at a rally in Lafeyette, La., after clinching narrow victories in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries. “The best chance to win this election is to nominate a conservative to go up against Barack Obama who can take him on on every issue.”

Watch Santorum’s speech here or below:

As Christina wrote Tuesday night, exit polls told a familiar tale:

In both states, Santorum was winning voters who found the most important candidate quality to be “true conservative” or “strong moral character,” and [Mitt] Romney did best among voters who were looking for the candidate most likely to defeat President Obama.

Despite his third-place finishes in the two Southern states, Romney still emerged with the most delegates from Tuesday’s contests after picking up decisive caucus wins in Hawaii and American Samoa.

“I am pleased that we will be increasing our delegate count in a very substantial way after tonight,” Romney said in a statement released late Tuesday by his campaign. The former Massachusetts governor did not hold an evening event after spending the day campaigning in Missouri, which holds its caucuses on Saturday.

Tuesday’s results also dealt a double-blow to Newt Gingrich, whose campaign had earlier dubbed Alabama and Mississippi must-wins, before later backing off that claim.

At his Tuesday night rally in Birmingham, Ala., the former House speaker showed no signs that he was preparing to drop his White House bid. Instead, he challenged Romney’s status as the perceived front-runner.

“The fact is, in both states, the conservative candidates got nearly 70 percent of the vote,” Gingrich said, adding,”If you’re the front-runner and you keep coming in third, you’re not much of a front-runner.”

Before the votes came in, Gingrich adviser Randy Evans and political director Martin Baker outlined their candidate’s path forward in a memo for the campaign staff.

They argued that the Louisiana primary March 24 is “halftime” in the race for the nomination, and that the nomination “will not be decided until the fourth quarter” in June. The pace ahead “favors Newt,” the staffers argued.

They walked through the contests on the calendar and noted that Wisconsin, which votes April 3, is the home state of Gingrish’s wife Callista. They note there’s a plethora of unbound delegates who could be free to choose the Republican of their choice at the convention.

Gingrich asked supporters for money in an early morning fundraising email, saying his rationale for staying in the race is the administration’s response to his $2.50 gas price plan. “The past few weeks have provided additional evidence that I am the candidate best prepared to take the fight to President Obama and defeat him in November,” Gingrich wrote.

View the full results of Tuesday’s contests in our Vote 2012 Map Center.

NEXT UP, LOUISIANA

As we mentioned above, Santorum chose to give his remarks Tuesday night from Lafayette, La. He also attended a fundraiser after his victory speech. The March 24 contest is already heating up.

The Louisiana Republican Party noted in an email that “the Romney campaign has verified that Mitt Romney will be in the state this month, but details will be forthcoming.”

The Santorum super PAC the Red White and Blue Fund announced a $260,000 TV ad buy in Louisiana focusing on energy.

(STILL) FOCUSED ON ROMNEY

President Obama’s re-election team and the Democratic National Committee remain focused on Romney. The DNC came out with a web video Wednesday morning that features Romney saying repeatedly he would “get rid” of Planned Parenthood.

Watch the video here or below:

That follows a new MoveOn 60-second TV spot called “GOP War on Women.” The ad will run on national cable, and you can watch it here.

And a new group called Ultraviolet hits Romney in a 30-second television spot for not criticizing Rush Limbaugh. You can watch that spot here.

On Tuesday, the Obama campaign slammed Romney in a press release for telling Fox News he’s to the right of Santorum.

“These comments were just the latest in a long string of attempts from Romney to appeal to the most conservative elements of the Republican base,” the campaign wrote. “From embracing economic policies that would give massive tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires to espousing extreme positions on immigration and women’s health to proudly declaring that he is ‘severely conservative,’ Mitt Romney indeed has moved to the right of Rick Santorum on many of the key issues facing our nation.”

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • A poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center found that President Obama’s approval rating stood at 50 percent, up from 47 percent in February and 44 percent in January. In Tuesday’s Morning Line, we wrote about the New York Times/CBS News poll that showed President Obama’s approval rating had dropped nine points in the past month to 41 percent. Read more about Pew’s survey here.

  • A Quinnipiac Univeristy poll of Pennsylvania GOP voters released Wednesday shows Santorum leading Romney by 14 points, 36 percent to 22 percent. Santorum also looks stronger against President Obama in a general election matchup, trailing by one point, 45 percent to 44 percent. The president tops Romney in the Keystone State by six points, 46 percent to 40 percent.

  • Romney will not attend a GOP presidential debate in Portland, Ore., scheduled for Monday and sponsored by Oregon Public Broadcasting. The NewsHour’s Ray Suarez and the Washington Times’ Ralph Z. Hallow are the moderators. An aide to the Romney campaign says the candidate will be campaigning in Illinois ahead of the state’s primary next Tuesday.

  • “If the general election were held today, President Obama would lose to Mitt Romney — according to the latest poll from Washington Post-ABC News,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina writes in a fundraising email. “We cannot underestimate someone like Romney who has shown he will spend and say anything to win.” Romney’s team uses the message to do its own fundraising blast, noting they agree with Messina’s assessment.

  • The AFL-CIO endorsed President Obama’s re-election bid on Tuesday and pledged to deploy hundreds of thousands of union volunteers to assist with voter outreach efforts.

  • A new American Future Fund ad running on cable in Virginia hits President Obama for his administration’s ties to Wall Street. Watch.

  • Bain Capital defended its business model in a letter to investors Tuesday, Reuters reports.

  • “In the middle of Sunshine Week, when news organizations and advocacy groups promote government transparency, the Obama administration urged Congress on Tuesday to keep secret a whole new category of information even under the Freedom of Information Act, the Associated Press notes.

  • Bloomberg’s Margaret Talev writes that another thing will be shrouded from the American public at Wednesday’s White House state dinner for British Prime Minister David Cameron: the price of the wines selected for the festivities.

  • Both Santorum and Texas Rep. Paul picked up Hill backers Tuesday: Rep. Tim Johnson of Illinois endorsed Paul, and Santorum scooped up Rep. Alan Nunnelee of Mississippi.

  • At South by Southwest, former Vice President Al Gore talks about Votizen, an effort he is backing to engage citizens and encourage voting.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama holds a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron in the East Room of the White House at 11:55 a.m. and hosts a state dinner at 7 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney attends campaign fundraisers in New York and Connecticut but has no public events scheduled.

  • Rick Santorum campaigns in San Juan, Puerto Rico, participating in a photo-op with Gov. Luis Fortuno at 11:30 a.m., holding a town hall at 2 p.m. and meeting with religious leaders at 6 p.m.

  • Newt Gingrich campaigns in Illinois, holding a rally in Rosemont at 4:30 p.m. and addressing the Northwest Suburban Republican Lincoln Day Dinner in Palatine at 8 p.m.

  • Ron Paul holds a town hall in Champaign, Ill., at 8 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers and @suddinengel.

This post was updated March 14 at 10:08 a.m.