Super Tuesday Roundup: Romney Wins 5 States, Including Ohio; Santorum Takes 3; Gingrich Nabs Georgia

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santorum-romneyMitt Romney won five Super Tuesday states including the big prize of Ohio, while Rick Santorum took three states and Newt Gingrich grabbed a vital triumph in Georgia.

Results from one more contest — the Alaska caucuses — were still being counted.

The five victories made it a good night for Romney, padding his front-running delegate total in the Republican presidential campaign, but he failed to get the convincing showing needed to demonstrate his ability to generate support among diehard conservatives.

In particular, Romney was unable to attract strong support from tea party conservatives and evangelical conservatives — voters who are important in a Republican primary but not as significant in a general election.

“He still has a problem with the base,” said Ari Fleischer, a CNN contributor who was press secretary for President George W. Bush. “That base problem may make him attractive to independents if he gets to a general” election, but can work against Romney in the primary season.

In Ohio, Romney took a late lead of more than 12,000 votes over Santorum with 96% of unofficial results counted, and it was clear Santorum would be unable to overcome the difference.

Even if Santorum had managed to win the Ohio vote, he wouldn’t get a majority of the delegates because his campaign failed to properly register them in some districts.

Santorum’s victories in the Tennessee and Oklahoma primaries, and North Dakota caucuses, demonstrated his continuing strength among conservative voters, while Gingrich’s win in the state that sent him to Congress allowed him to keep his campaign going.

The next contests include the Kansas caucuses on Saturday, and primaries in Mississippi and Alabama on March 13. Gingrich and Santorum are focusing on those races in conservative states in their battle to become the lone right-wing challenger to the more moderate Romney.

Santorum’s campaign is planning on buying about $1 million of ads in Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi, a Santorum campaign source said.

The Santorum victory Tuesday in Tennessee hurt Gingrich’s Southern strategy after the former House speaker’s triumphs in South Carolina and now Georgia.

“It looks we’re going to get at least a couple of gold medals, and a whole passel full of silver medals,” Santorum told cheering supporters in Ohio well before the outcome in the Buckeye State was known.

Romney, meanwhile, easily won as expected in Virginia, Vermont, Idaho and Massachusetts, the state where he served as governor and considers home, as well as Ohio. In Virginia, two of his challengers — Santorum and Gingrich — failed to qualify for the ballot.

The Super Tuesday contests in 10 states put 419 delegates up for grabs. Based on the partial results, CNN estimated that Romney had accumulated 386 delegates to 158 for Santorum, 94 for Gingrich and 60 for Texas Rep. Ron Paul. It takes 1,144 delegates to win the Republican nomination.

For Gingrich, who represented Georgia’s sixth congressional district for two decades, the victory there provided a new boost after a string of defeats since his only other primary triumph in South Carolina.

“Thank you Georgia! It is gratifying to win my home state so decisively to launch our March Momentum,” Gingrich said Tuesday night in a Twitter post.

“There’s lots of bunny rabbits that run through,” Gingrich later told supporters in Georgia in reference to the revolving door of frontrunners so far in the GOP nomination fight. “I’m the tortoise.”

A Gingrich campaign source also told CNN on condition of not being identified that the former House speaker will become the third GOP candidate to get Secret Service protection starting Wednesday. Romney and Santorum already have that protection.

Romney entered Super Tuesday off of three wins last week and a growing lead in the race for the nomination to face President Barack Obama in November.

In remarks to supporters in Boston, Romney focused on Obama in trying to sound like the presumptive nominee.

Citing unemployment that remains above 8%, Romney said the figure is just an “inconvenient statistic” in the eyes of the Obama administration.

“But those numbers are more than data on a spreadsheet; they are worried families and anxious faces,” said Romney, who was interrupted repeatedly by chants and cheers. “And tonight, I’d like to say to each of them: You have not been forgotten. We will not leave you behind. Our campaign is on the move, and real change is finally on the way.”

Romney also signaled a continued battle for his campaign.

“Tonight we’ve taken one more step towards restoring the promise of America,” he said. “Tomorrow we wake up and we start again. And the next day we’ll do the same. And so it will go, day by day, step by step, door by door, heart to heart.”

Santorum also focused on Obama, saying the president’s policies threatened the individual liberty of Americans. In addition, he targeted Romney for his health care law in Massachusetts, arguing it was the model for Obama’s federal health care reforms detested by conservatives.

“I’ve never been for a mandate at a state or a federal level,” Santorum said in challenging the requirement in both the Massachusetts and federal laws for people to have health coverage.

Tuesday was the biggest single day of the primary season, and included showdowns in several states that will determine the ability of Santorum, Gingrich and Paul to blunt Romney’s momentum toward what many believe will be his inevitable nomination.

Georgia had the most delegates up for grabs on Tuesday with 76, but Ohio, because of its status as a crucial battleground state in the general election, was considered the main prize.

Surveys released a week earlier suggested Santorum led Romney in Ohio, but they were conducted before Romney’s victories in Arizona and his native Michigan on February 28, followed by winning the Washington state caucuses on Saturday.

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Final polls indicated the race would be very close.

A leading GOP strategist said before the results were known that Romney needed to show strength across-the-board on Tuesday.

“If Romney demonstrates he can win in the South, GOP establishment and conservative voters will rally around him and money for his opponents would begin to dry up,” said CNN contributor Alex Castellanos, who was a top media adviser for Romney’s 2008 nomination bid but who is not taking sides this cycle.

Romney’s campaign was bolstered by endorsements from leading conservatives this week including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The endorsements indicated a growing push in the Republican Party to show Romney can win the trust of conservatives, despite concerns that he is too moderate.

Thanks to a sweep of contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri on February 7, Santorum went from a long-shot candidate to a co-frontrunner, but going into Super Tuesday he hadn’t had a victory since.

“Simply put, he needs to stop the bleeding after three straight losses by winning several states of his own — including the big one in Ohio,” said Gentry Collins, a former political director for the Republican National Committee and the Republican Governors Association.

Paul has focused his efforts on winning delegates in the caucus states of Idaho, North Dakota and Alaska so that he can wield influence at the Republican convention in August.

{CNN.com/Matzav.com Newscenter}

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