Santorum’s Louisiana win does little to change the game of delegate math
By Paul Steinhauser and John Helton
(CNN) — Rick Santorum’s convincing win in Louisiana’s GOP primary does little to change the delegate math that has rival Mitt Romney with a more than 2-to-1 lead, raising questions about whether he can generate broader appeal to win the nomination.
Santorum told supporters after Saturday’s win in Louisiana that the race was far from over, recalling the naysayers who said Ronald Reagan was too conservative to win the nomination.
“Ronald Reagan fought that battle in 1976 and he did something that had not been done since: as someone as a conservative running against the establishment, he won 11 states. Well tonight, thanks to the great people of Louisiana, we have won our 11th state in this primary fight,” he said.
But the road ahead is a difficult one for Santorum, who is slogging it out in what has become a game of numbers to clinch the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.
Santorum will pick up at least eight of the 20 delegates up for grabs, according to a CNN estimate. Going into Louisiana, Romney had 563 delegates, more than twice the 251 Santorum had.
With 100% of the precincts reporting late Saturday, the former Pennsylvania senator won handily with more than 91,000 votes or 49% of the vote, according the Louisiana Secretary of State’s unofficial tally. Romney picked up more than 49,000 votes or 27% of the vote, it said.
Former GOP House Speaker Next Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul finished a distant third and fourth, respectively. Gingrich picked up more than 29,500 votes or 16%, while Paul captured more than 11,000 votes, about 6%.
The candidates slogging it out for the GOP presidential nomination get a few days of breathing space before the next round of primaries on April 3 when delegates in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia will be up for grabs.
Of the candidates, Romney had the least at stake in Louisiana with polls predicting a finish behind Santorum. He has yet to win in the Deep South and wasn’t expected to reverse the trend in Louisiana. Friday was the only day he spent campaigning in the state.
While Romney called Santorum to congratulate him on his Louisiana win, the two camps were already jockeying to spin the win.
“Rick Santorum is like a football team celebrating a field goal when they are losing by seven touchdowns with less than a minute left in the game,” Ryan Williams, a Romney campaign spokesman, said in a statement released shortly after the call.
Santorum’s team countered with their own statement: “Louisiana voters overwhelmingly rejected Mitt Romney’s push to press the reset button, because they know that we need a clear contrast to President Obama’s disastrous policies. ”
But the big question remains whether Santorum’s showing in Louisiana will matter much, given Romney’s huge delegate lead.
“Santorum can’t just win, he has to win big. He’s the one who needs to ‘shake up’ this race. Another ho-hum win in the South doesn’t cut it. He’s on a political bridge to nowhere and is running out of time to change destinations,” said Bruce Haynes, a GOP strategist and managing partner of Purple Strategies, a bipartisan public affairs consulting firm.
Pressure is likely to continue to mount on Gingrich to get out of the race after his Southern strategy failed, with wins only in Georgia and South Carolina.
But Gingrich vowed Saturday to stay in the race until the Republican National Convention in Florida in August.
“This is clearly still an open race,” he said late Saturday. “So, on behalf of the more than 176,000 Americans who have donated to Newt 2012, I will carry our solution oriented campaign to Tampa.”
CNN’s Phil Gast contributed to this report.