Santorum: Mississippi could make it a 2-man race

Associated Press + More

By ERIK SCHELZIG and PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — Urging conservatives not to yield, Republican Rick Santorum told supporters Wednesday that they could make the GOP presidential contest a two-man race if they deliver him a victory next week and offer an embarrassing loss to rival Newt Gingrich in the South.

Santorum and Gingrich have been competing to emerge as front-runner Mitt Romney's chief rival, yet they continue to split the party's right-leaning bloc. The division has allowed Romney to shore up delegates and momentum, including six of the 10 states that weighed in on Super Tuesday. Santorum won three yet remained far behind Romney.

That could change with a Gingrich loss in what is seen as the former Georgia congressman's backyard, the former Pennsylvania senator said.

"If you deliver a victory for us on Tuesday, you will make this a two-person race," Santorum said at a small business here. "And once it's a two-person race, the conservative will be the nominee. You can change it all, Mississippi."

Speaking later to a rally in Jackson, Miss., he went one step further.

"If we nominate a conservative to the presidency of the United States, we will win this election in the fall," he predicted to cheers.

It's not clear that Gingrich would immediately drop out if he were dealt defeat in Mississippi and Alabama, which vote on March 13. However, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond told reporters in Montgomery, Ala., that Gingrich must win both states to justify staying in the race.

Gingrich canceled a trip to Kansas — Santorum visited the Midwestern state on Wednesday and planned to return on Friday — to focus on the two deeply conservative Southern states. He has posted just two victories so far — South Carolina on Jan. 21 and his home state of Georgia on Tuesday.

"Nominate someone who is not for Wall Street bailouts, unlike Gingrich and Romney. Someone who has not bought into the idea of man-made global warming, which we all now know was not climate science, it was political science," Santorum said.

"You want someone who's going to stand by their convictions, not change with the climate? Then Rick Santorum is the person you want to nominate out of Mississippi," he said.

Santorum also hit socially conservative issues hard, too. Neither Gingrich nor Romney has a record without blemishes and Santorum is hoping religious conservatives reward him the way they did in Iowa.

"I stood tall for the values that the people of Mississippi want to see in their nominee, and that's why I'm asking for your help and support on Tuesday," he said in Tupelo.

As he closed his day in Jackson, he flat-out called Romney a liar over how he describes Massachusetts' health care law that many conservatives see as the forefather of Democrats' national health law.

"It's one thing to argue for bad policies," Santorum said. "It's another thing to impose it on the people of your state. ... There's a final thing: When you don't have the courage to stand up and tell the truth about what you did."

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Elliott reported from Jackson, Miss.

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