Washington: Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum won Louisiana’s primary, giving him another victory in a region where Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the nomination, has struggled.
Saturday’s results offer a boost to Santorum and highlight again the trouble Romney has had connecting with voters in the southern part of the US, where many are focused on social issues such as abortion. The vote also puts greater pressure on Romney to thwart Santorum in Wisconsin, the next major primary.
“I’m not running as a conservative candidate for president; I am the conservative candidate for president,” Santorum told supporters in Wisconsin after the Louisiana race was called. He urged them to get it done in Wisconsin.
New gains: Republican candidate Rick Santorum. Gerald Herbert/AP
Even with his troubles with Southern voters, Romney is on pace to claim his party’s nomination. Going into the Louisiana vote, the former Massachusetts governor had 563 of the 1,144 delegates needed to win, compared with 263 for Santorum, 135 for Newt Gingrich and 50 for Ron Paul, according to the AP.
“The bad news for Santorum is a lot of these Southern primaries have come and gone,” said William Mayer, a political science professor at Northeastern University in Boston.
With 99% of precincts reporting, Santorum had 49% of the vote, according to the Associated Press. Romney had 27%, former US House speaker Gingrich 16% and US representative Paul of Texas 6%.
At stake in the primary were 20 of Louisiana’s 46 delegates; most of the rest will be allocated at a state convention on 2 June. To qualify for a share of the delegates, a candidate had to get at least 25% of the primary vote.
“This is clearly still an open race,” Gingrich said in a statement released by his campaign on Saturday night. He vowed to carry his campaign onto the Republican nominating convention.
Santorum’s campaign, in an emailed statement, called the results vindication for the conservative message put forward by the former US senator from Pennsylvania, and rejected calls to fall in line behind Romney.
Santorum won among voters in all income brackets except for those making more than $200,000 a year, according to exit polls cited by ABC News. While there were fewer evangelicals in Louisiana than in other southern states that have voted, Santorum won them by a wide margin and also dominated among Catholics, ABC said.
A plurality of the voters said Romney would have the best chance to beat President Barack Obama in the general election, though his margin over Santorum on that question was smaller than in past races, ABC said.
John McCormick in Chicago and Greg Giroux in Washington of Bloomberg contributed to this story.