Santorum upbeat after Louisiana win

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iol pic wld Santorum 2012~20 AP Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum addresses supporters at a campaign rally in Fond du Lac.

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said on Sunday his latest victory on the campaign trail shows he can beat frontrunner Mitt Romney and secure the crucial swing states that decide US elections.

Santorum swept the southern state of Louisiana with 49 percent of the vote on Saturday, easily defeating Romney (26.7 percent), former House speaker Newt Gingrich (15.9 percent), and Texas congressman Ron Paul (6.1 percent).

But the comfortable triumph barely dented Romney's commanding advantage in the race to secure the Republican nomination to take on incumbent Democrat Barack Obama in a November 6 general election.

Santorum, a Catholic and fervent opponent of abortion and gay marriage, has won 11 out of 34 nominating contests so far, largely on the back of strong support from evangelical Christians and the party's most conservative members.

But his stance on hot-button social issues is a worry to the Republican establishment, which thinks such hardline views could turn-off the independent voters who will ultimately decide the outcome of the general election.

Santorum, however, said Sunday that the win in Louisiana was proof that he is better placed than former Massachusetts governor Romney to take on Obama in a nationwide vote.

“Governor Romney will not be able to pound Barack Obama into the ground with overwhelming negative ads,” Santorum told CBS television, alluding to Romney's must better financed campaign.

“Barack Obama must be defeated - period. In the swing states I lead Barack Obama by four points and governor Romney loses by four points,” he said.

“We have to have someone who can beat him on the issues and connect with voters,” Santorum added, alluding to Romney's perceived weakness among ordinary Americans, many of whom see the multi-millionaire and former venture capitalist as being out of touch with the concerns of economically hard-pressed families.

The Republican race now moves away from the South, where Santorum dominated and Romney has failed to win a single state, to primaries in the more moderate territories of Wisconsin, Maryland and the US capital Washington on April 3.

Polls show that Romney has a big lead in Wisconsin, a northern state that is bordered by Illinois and Michigan where he has already won nominating contests.

Santorum has vowed to fight all the way to the Republican convention in August if Romney has not by then won the 1,144

delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

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

Pressure is high in the Republican establishment to rally behind Romney, whose 21 wins include Florida and Ohio Ä two key battlegrounds in the general election, but no presidential candidate has signaled they will drop out.

Veteran Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Sunday echoed those concern, telling CNN that the primary season was all but over and the race was sewn up for the frontrunner.

“Romney will be the nominee,” Graham said. “Fiscal and social conservatives will unite and form a bond with libertarians and independents and we'll win the White House if we can run a good fall campaign.

“It won't be easy but I like our chances,” he added.

Third-placed candidate Gingrich, who has won two states, has 141 delegates, while Paul, who has not won a single contest, has 66

thanks to the proportional distribution system used in some states.

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

Santorum is looking ahead to May, when the southern states of North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas will vote, but if enough of the party's “super-delegates” throw their weight behind Romney, the race could be essentially over before then. - Sapa-AFP


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