Accessibility links

Santorum Wins Alabama, Mississippi Primaries

Republican presidential hopeful Senator Rick Santorum celebrates with his wife Karen after winning primaries in Alabama and Mississippi.

Republican presidential hopeful Senator Rick Santorum celebrates with his wife Karen after winning primaries in Alabama and Mississippi.

Republican Party presidential candidate Rick Santorum has won primaries in the southern states of Alabama and Mississippi, strengthening his bid to be the party's nominee in U.S. presidential election in November.

But Santorum's victories also still leave the Republican Party without a clear front-runner to face incumbent Barack Obama.

Going into the primaries on March 13, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was presumed by many to be the leading Republican candidate to receive the party's nomination but the defeats in Alabama and Mississippi increase the chances of further weeks of election battles with Santorum.

This comes at a time when many in the Republican Party would prefer to be concentrating on getting an obvious front-runner prepared for the November contest.

Santorum and fellow Republican Party candidate Newt Gingrich were seen as competing for the conservative vote in Alabama and Mississippi with some analysts predicting ahead of the primaries that the two would split conservatives, allowing Romney to make a good showing among moderates, perhaps even winning one or both states.

Results show both races were close, particularly in Mississippi where Santorum received nearly 33 percent of the vote, while Gingrich and Romney received 31 and 30 percent, respectively.

Santorum did slightly better in Alabama where he received 34.5 percent, followed by Gingrich with 29.3 percent and Romney with 29 percent.

Gingrich Under Pressure

Gingrich's losses raises the chances he could drop out of the race soon.

Gingrich has won in only two states, one of which was Georgia, the state he represented in Congress.

Should Gingrich depart the race most of his supporters would likely go over to Santorum, seen as more conservative than Romney.

Santorum mentioned this while campaigning earlier in Mississippi when he suggested Gingrich should drop out of the running, "making this race clearly a two-person race outside of the South."

Speaking in Louisiana, another conservative state with a primary coming up later this month, Santorum seemed confident of support from the conservative wing of the Republican Party, support he said would be crucial to defeating President Barack Obama.

"We will compete everywhere," he said. "The time is now for conservatives to pull together. The time is now to make sure...that we have the best chance to win this election and the best chance to win this election is to nominate a conservative to go up against Barack Obama, who can take him on, on every issue."

Speaking to supporters in Birmingham, Alabama, Gingrich gave no indication that he was ready to quit the race but he did use the opportunity to attack Romney's image as the party's front-runner in the campaign.

"One of the things that tonight proved is that the elite media's intention to prove Romney is the front-runner, just collapsed," he said after the primaries. "The fact is, in both states, the conservative candidates got nearly 70 percent of the vote and if you're the front-runner and keep coming in third, you're not much of a front-runner."

To secure the nomination at the party convention in August in Tampa, Florida, a candidate needs 1,144 delegate votes. Romney, with some 450 delegates, still has more than twice the number of delegates that Santorum has but Santorum's strong showing in midwestern and southern states has kept Romney from finishing off the competition from in his own party and concentrating on defeating Obama.

Romney did win the caucuses in Hawaii and the territory of American Samoa that were held on Tuesday. In Hawaii, Romney won 45 percent of the vote to 25 percent for Santorum. Gingrich finished fourth behind Congressman Ron Paul.

Romney won all nine of the delegates available in American Samoa, a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa