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Santorum triumphs in Kansas, Romney takes Wyoming

Polls show races Tuesday in Miss. and Ala. are close

Mike Hutmacher/The Wichita Eagle via Associated Press

Supporters of presidential candidate Rick Santorum held up campaign posters Saturday in Wichita, Kan.

WICHITA, Kan. - Another day of presidential primary contests on Saturday yielded a familiar result: No definitive winner, and no end in sight for the bruising GOP nomination battle.

Final returns in Kansas showed Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania senator, with 51 percent support, sweeping all but one of the state’s 105 counties, according to the Associated Press.

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GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, whose campaign bypassed the state, ran a distant second at 21 percent. Newt Gingrich had 14 percent and Ron Paul 13 percent.

Santorum picked up 33 of the state’s 40 delegates at stake, cutting slightly into Romney’s overwhelming advantage.

In Wyoming, Romney won seven of the 12 delegates at stake, Santorum three, Paul one. Uncommitted also won one.

Earlier in the weekend, Romney also swept contests in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, picking up 18 delegates. The former Massachusetts governor sent his son Matt to campaign on his behalf to both territories, making his the only campaign represented in the distant Pacific islands.

The contests in Kansas and Wyoming left Romney with 453 delegates in the AP’s count, more than all his rivals combined. Santorum had 217, while Gingrich had 107 and Paul had 47.

The Kansas win gives Santorum a modest lift in the battle for delegates.

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The Kansas win gives Santorum a modest lift in the battle for national convention delegates, but perhaps more important, it helps bolster his argument that he, and not Gingrich, is the conservative alternate to Romney.

The true test in that battle will come Tuesday, when the GOP race heads south to two states that should be Gingrich strongholds, Alabama and Mississippi. Polls show a tight race in both states.

To clinch the Republican nomination, a candidate must win 1,144 delegates, which are awarded differently in various states.

Kansas had 40 delegates at stake Saturday: 12 district-wide delegates for the overall highest vote getter, 25 at-large delegates awarded proportionally based on the statewide vote, and three delegate spots reserved for Republican National Committee members.

All four GOP hopefuls had originally planned to campaign in Kansas. But in a tacit acknowledgment of Santorum’s natural strength there, Romney and Gingrich decided to bypass the state in favor of campaigning in the South. That left Santorum battling on the ground against Paul, who drew huge crowds of enthusiastic young people in recent days but whose supporters did not materialize in great numbers on Saturday.

Santorum held three events in Kansas this week and on Saturday dispatched his wife and son to Wichita, home to one of the state’s largest caucus sites. Karen Santorum received raucous applause for her address, during which she choked up at times when talking about the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Bella, and she hailed her husband as a candidate who “is not a well-oiled weather vane.’’

In remarks to supporters in Springfield, Mo., shortly after the race was called, Santorum noted that he was on his way to winning “the vast majority of delegates’’ from Kansas. With a new jobs report showing the economic recovery picking up steam, Santorum also recast the GOP race as a fight not solely over economic issues but also over which candidate is best-equipped to face President Obama on foreign affairs and the health care reform law.

“The issue may not be jobs and the economy,’’ Santorum said. “It may be something more fundamentally important: Having someone who stood up for something called freedom.’’

Romney was the only candidate who failed to send a surrogate to Wichita. His campaign did not have a volunteer at the Romney table at the event.

On Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi, 90 delegates are at stake. In recent days, polls have predicted a close race between Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich.

Gingrich spent much of the previous week zig-zagging across the two states in hopes of reviving his flagging candidacy. He won GOP primaries in South Carolina and his native Georgia, but has struggled to gain traction elsewhere.

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