Gingrich refuses to step aside despite Santorum victories

 

Newt Gingrich was yesterday resisting growing demands to drop out of the Republican presidential race and allow his surging fellow conservative Rick Santorum an unimpeded shot at wresting the nomination from the faltering frontrunner, Mitt Romney.

Mr Santorum's victories in Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday were narrow, the result of a virtual three-way vote split between the three major candidates. But they came in Mr Gingrich's home region of the South, prompting questions of why the latter should persist in a futile venture after failing to win even in his political backyard.

For the moment at least, the former Speaker remains defiant. "What pressure is there going to be?" Mr Gingrich declared to supporters, even as his pair of second-place finishes became clear on Tuesday night. "That the Romney people want me to get out? That the Washington establishment wants me to get out?"

In reality, it is Rick Santorum who most wants him out.

As many analysts point out, the biggest beneficiary of Mr Gingrich's refusal to withdraw is Mr Romney himself, who finished third in Alabama and Mississippi. As Mr Gingrich noted in his typically truculent speech, almost 70 per cent of voters on Tuesday opposed Mr Romney, underlining the continuing distrust the Republican conservative base harbours towards the former Massachusetts Governor. Across the country, the combined Santorum/Gingrich vote has exceeded Mr Romney's in almost every recent contest. At the very least, Mr Santorum's latest successes guarantee that the bruising contest will continue for weeks, perhaps until the nominating convention in Tampa in late August.

The next date on the calendar is Saturday's delegate-choosing caucuses in Missouri, where Mr Santorum easily won the non-binding primaries last month. Sunday sees Puerto Rico's primary, where the former Pennsylvania Senator could also spring a surprise. But most eyes will be on Tuesday's primary in the big Midwestern state of Illinois, where a Romney defeat could upend every calculation.

"Unless something happens to change the dynamic for Romney very quickly, he is going to start to sink faster than he did with his run four years ago," said Ed Rollins, a former White House adviser and manager of Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign. "It's now clear, it's a fight all the way."

But thanks to the proportional allocation of convention delegates in many states, Mr Romney's predicament may be less dire.

The narrowness of Mr Santorum's victories in Alabama and Mississippi (with pluralities of 35 and 33 per cent respectively) meant that he split convention delegates more or less evenly with his opponents.

Primaries: In numbers

80% of Republican voters in Mississippi are evangelical Christians

52% of Republican respondents in Alabama think Barack Obama is a Muslim

34.5% of the Republican vote was won by Rick Santorum in Alabama. Newt Gingrich took 29.3 per cent

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