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Santorum looks to Louisiana to revive campaign

Santorum looks to Louisiana to revive campaign

Underdog Rick Santorum is fighting for a big win in Louisiana as rival Mitt Romney gets closer to locking in the Republican nod to take on President Barack Obama in November.

But even an expected knock-out performance in the southern state of Louisiana on Saturday will not help Santorum make much of a dent in Romney’s commanding lead in all-important delegates.

Romney has now won 21 out of 33 nomination contests, while former Pennsylvania senator Santorum has notched up 10 wins — largely with the help of evangelicals and the party’s most conservative members.

Pressure is increasing for Republicans to rally behind Romney and end the bloody and divisive primary battle before it hurts the party’s chances of defeating Obama and winning the White House.

Santorum was forced to backpedal after telling supporters on Thursday “we might as well stay with what we have” if the best the Republican party can do is nominate someone “who’s just going to be a little different than the person in there.”

Romney immediately pounced on the remark, saying he was “disappointed” Santorum would “rather rather have Barack Obama as president than a Republican” and noting that “this election is more important than any one person.”

A top Romney surrogate went even farther Friday, saying Santorum “is going off the rails” and the remark “is ridiculous and demonstrates his lack of commitment to conservative principles.”

“Republicans need to unite around our nominee in order to undo the damage caused by President Obama’s failed policies and restore America’s promise,” Ted Kanavas, a former state senator and chair of Romney’s Wisconsin campaign, said in a statement.

“Senator Santorum is not only damaging himself with his ill-advised comments, he’s damaging the conservative movement.”

Santorum shot back by insisting it’s “preposterous” to say he would support Obama and calling the Romney campaign offensive an attempt “to distort and distract the media and voters from the unshakeable fact that many of Romney’s policies mirror Barack Obama’s.”

“I was simply making the point that there is a huge enthusiasm gap around Mitt Romney,” Santorum said in a statement Friday.

“Voters have to be excited enough to actually go vote, and my campaign’s movement to restore freedom s exciting this nation. If this election is about Obama versus the Obama-Lite candidate, we’ll have a tough time rallying this nation.”

Santorum had a 14 point lead over Romney in Louisiana in a survey released Friday by Public Policy Polling, thanks in part to conservatives abandoning former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

“Santorum’s entire lead in Louisiana is coming with the furthest right factions of the Republican Party,” the polling group said.

He also has a substantial lead among voters who only made up their minds in the past few days which “suggests he could end up winning by an ever wider margin than he has in this poll,” PPP said.

But the victory could be one of Santorum’s last as the race heads to states where Romney has the advantage.

The former Massachusetts governor was ahead by 13 points in a Rasmussen survey of voters in the midwestern state of Wisconsin, which heads to the polls on April 3 along with Maryland and Washington DC.

While Santorum is expected to carry his home state of Pennsylvania in the following contest on April 24, that victory will be overshadowed if Romney is able to sweep New York, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island which also vote that day.

Santorum’s campaign said earlier this week that it is looking ahead to May when the southern states of North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas vote.

It has also vowed to take the fight all the way to the Republican convention in August if Romney is not able to win the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

But if enough of the party’s “super delegates” throw their weight behind Romney, the race could be essentially over long before then.

Romney currently has an estimated 560 delegates, while Santorum has won 246, according to the website Real Clear Politics.

Gingrich — who has won two states — has 141 delegates while libertarian congressman Ron Paul — who has not won a single contest — has 66 thanks to proportional distribution of delegates.

Since many states award delegates at state conventions, the results of nominating events do not translate easily into an exact delegate count.

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