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Santorum calls on Mississippi voters to drive Gingrich out of the race

Rick Santorum called on Mississippi Republicans on Wednesday to drive Newt Gingrich out of the presidential race next week by denying him one of the Deep South primary victories that the former House speaker is counting on to revive his campaign for the party nomination.

Santorum and Gingrich are battling for support among the conservative evangelical Christians who will dominate the Republican primaries on Tuesday in Mississippi and Alabama. If Gingrich loses those contests, his prospects for clinching the nomination will diminish sharply.

At an evening rally here in central Mississippi, Santorum told hundreds of cheering supporters that by forcing Gingrich to abandon his candidacy, they could narrow the GOP field to a conservative purist – himself – and an “insider moderate,” former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

“If we win Mississippi, this will be a two-person race, and if this is a two-person race, we will nominate a conservative as president of the United States,” the former Pennsylvania senator said.

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Santorum’s victories in the Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota nominating contests on Tuesday strengthened his standing as a potential standard-bearer for the party’s conservative wing, but Gingrich stands in his way.

Gingrich, who had hoped to carry Oklahoma and Tennessee but had to settle for just Georgia, scaled back his campaign Wednesday, abandoning plans for a six-stop swing across Kansas in advance of that state’s caucuses Saturday. Instead, the former Georgia congressman plans to campaign solely in Mississippi and Alabama in an effort to score a string of Southern victories.

By contrast, Santorum is competing aggressively across a larger map, with stops planned over the next week not just in Mississippi and Alabama, but also in Kansas and Missouri, which holds caucuses March 17.

Beyond the continuing challenge from Gingrich, Santorum faces another obstacle: Restore Our Future, a “super PAC” backing Romney. In Alabama, it is running a TV ad depicting Santorum as wavering on his conservative principles, a theme that Gingrich also struck in attacking Santorum on Wednesday in Montgomery, Ala.

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At his rally here at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum, Santorum slammed Romney for the millions of dollars in scathing TV and radio attack ads that he and his supporters have aired against his rivals in state after state.

“Our campaign hasn’t been about negative advertising and carpet bombing, trying to tear down your opponents,” Santorum said. “It’s one of the reasons we continue to just hang in there. It’s because we’re connecting. Not because everybody agrees with everything that I’m saying, but people know that what I’m saying is what I truly believe is right for this country.”

On Thursday, Romney plans to join his opponents in the South, with stops in Alabama and Mississippi.

 


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