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Santorum sweeps the South, declares "We did it again!"

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Rick Santorum wins Alabama, Mississippi

Santorum sweeps the South, declares “We did it again!”

In what was clearly an unanticipated result Tuesday evening, Rick Santorum won the three-way Republican primary vote in Alabama.  With more than half the returns in from the Yellowhammer State, networks projected the former Pennsylvania senator winning just over one-third of the vote and thus edging out lead rivals Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

The Romney people, however, made it clear they were not dissatisfied with the results at all, despite hopes of (and some recent polls) suggesting that a win by their man was possible.  Former Alabama Republican Party Chairman Marty Connors, a top Romney strategist in in the state, told HUMAN EVENTS as the networks were calling it for Santorum: “Hey, we’ll take a three-way split here.  It means we get more delegates and get closer to the nomination.”

Unofficial returns have the three candidates Santorum, Romney and Gingrich splitting wins among the state’s seven congressional districts, which have three delegates each.  But, as the top vote-receiver statewide, Santorum will gain 26 at-large delegates. The three other delegates from Alabama — the state party chairman and two Republican National Committee members — are uncommitted to any candidate at this point.

The Santorum win over Gingrich raises some fresh questions about the Georgian. And after losing a state his supporters very much counted on winning, will Newt Gingrich now seriously reassess his earlier vows to stay in the race until the party’s national convention in Tampa?

As he has done in other Southern states, Santorum cobbled together a campaign largely from strong cultural conservatives.  Heading up the effort in Alabama for Santorum was Hank Erwin, a former state senator and leader among evangelical conservatives.  Santorum also got a boost on primary day from Alabama’s Gov. Robert Bentley, who told reporters upon emerging from the polling place that he voted for the former Pennsylvania senator (although Bentley said that his vote did not constitute an endorsement).

Romney had the backing of much of the so-called Republican “establishment”, with Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey and Rep. Mike Rogers quarterbacking his state campaign.  Also on the Romney team was former two-term Gov. Bob Riley, as well as much of the business community in Birmingham and Montgomery.

As in other states in which he has won or placed, Gingrich had many enthusiastic grassroots supporters throughout Alabama, but there were questions as to just how organized they were.  Gingrich also had some respected political figures in his camp — notably state House Majority Leader Jabo Waggoner — and, in the final days of the campaign, picked up the endorsement of former two-term Gov. Fob James and Ray Scott, a well-respected businessman (and fisherman) who heads the Bass Anglers Association.

So Rick Santorum scored an upset in Alabama, but the Romney camp is not unhappy.  How the results play out in terms of delegates and whether this increases the calls for Gingrich to go will be among the more interesting political stories to be played out in the coming weeks.

Mississippi

Mississippi was a tight three-way race on the eve of its primary.  Polls could be found that showed either Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich with a slight lead, well within the margin of error.  The state could play an important part in the Newt Gingrich comeback story, especially if he also won Alabama.

If Rick Santorum won, it could become part of his increasingly strong case for Gingrich to drop out, and leave him as the only viable alternative to Romney.  Early Tuesday evening, Santorum repeated his calls for Gingrich to exit the race, citing his poor showing in Kansas (where Santorum won a commanding victory) as evidence that the former Speaker played little role in the primary beyond dividing the conservative vote, and giving Romney an easier path to victory.

For his part, Romney would benefit greatly from further evidence that he has winning appeal in every region of the country.  Considering how far behind some older polls put him in Mississippi, he had to feel good about reaching Tuesday night as part of a three-way dogfight.

By 10:00 PM Eastern time, Santorum had pulled to a narrow lead in Mississippi, eventually claiming a one- to two-percent win, making it his night in both Mississippi and Alabama.  It appeared that Newt Gingrich would take second place in both states, although things were looking extremely tight throughout the evening in Mississippi.

Campaigning in Louisiana, a very, very happy Santorum declared, “We did it again!”

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Written By

John Gizzi has come to be known as â??the man who knows everyone in Washingtonâ? and, indeed, many of those who hold elected positions and in party leadership roles throughout the United States. With his daily access to the White House as a correspondent, Mr. Gizzi offers readers the inside scoop on whatâ??s going on in the nationâ??s capital. He is the author of a number of popular Human Events features, such as â??Gizzi on Politicsâ? and spotlights of key political races around the country. Gizzi also is the host of â??Gizziâ??s America,â? video interviews that appear on HumanEvents.com. Gizzi got his start at Human Events in 1979 after graduating from Fairfield University in Connecticut and then working for the Travis County (Tex.) Tax Assessor. He has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV shows, including Fox News Channel, C-SPAN, America's Voice,The Jim Bohannon Show, Fox 5, WUSA 9, America's Radio News Network and is also a frequent contributor to the BBC -- and has appeared on France24 TV and German Radio. He is a past president of the Georgetown Kiwanis Club, past member of the St. Matthew's Cathedral's Parish Council, and secretary of the West End Friends of the Library. He is a recipient of the William A. Rusher Award for Journalistic Excellence and was named Journalist of the Year by the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2002. John Gizzi is also a credentialed correspondent at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He has questioned two IMF managing directors, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Christine LaGarde, and has become friends with international correspondents worldwide. Johnâ??s email is JGizzi@EaglePub.Com

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