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Santorum says divided convention could hurt Romney

Rick Santorum

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Rick Santorum delivered remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Marriott Wardman Park.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said he does not believe delegates at the Republican National Convention will vote for Mitt Romney, if Romney does not have the nomination sewn up by then.

“It’s a conservative party,” Santorum said, speaking on MSNBC’s “Today Show.” “If the opportunity provides itself at an open convention, they’re not going to nominate a moderate Massachusetts governor who has been outspending his opponent 10 to one and can’t win the election outright.”

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Romney, however, said he is closing the deal “state by state, delegate by delegate.” Romney said on “Fox News” that he has more than twice as many delegates as Santorum, advantages in the same number of states, and “many more Republican voters than he has.”

The comments come as the race has turned into a slow accumulation of delegates. Tomorrow, voters in Alabama and Mississippi go to the polls and Hawaiians will caucus. The Missouri caucus is Saturday and the Illinois primary next Tuesday.

The Romney campaign has argued that it will be nearly impossible for Santorum or Newt Gingrich to get the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination. But the possibility also remains that Romney will not get the required number of delegates either, and the nomination will not be secured before the party convention.

Santorum said Romney “is not on a path himself” to win enough delegates. Santorum pointed out that Romney has won some delegates – likely referring to Romney’s win in Virginia - because Gingrich and Santorum were not on the ballot. He said Romney had an organizational advantage in some of the earlier states, but now, Santorum said, “We’re going to move to states where I’m going to have more of an advantage.” Romney so far has not done well in the southern states.

“The math is not the issue. The issue is vision,” Santorum said. “The issue is Governor Romney having outspent me 10 to one is still not able to close the deal.”

Romney responded that the race at this point “is all about the delegates.” According to the Associated Press tally, Romney has 454 delegates, Santorum has 217, Gingrich has 107, and Paul has 47. “Delegates are awarded proportionally so that lengthens the process,” Romney said. “We’re winning this, and I expect we’ll get the nomination.”

Gingrich yesterday criticized Romney for being a “weak frontrunner” who cannot win among conservatives. But Romney responded that he won the conservative vote in states including Florida, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Arizona. “If I’m a weak frontrunner, what does that make Newt Gingrich?” Romney said. “Because I’m well ahead of him.”

Asked whether he believes Gingrich or Santorum would win the nomination if the other candidate dropped out, Romney responded, “I don’t think it’s mathematically impossible.” But, he said, “I’d get some of their support, the other guy would get some of their support. I still expect to get the nomination.”

Shira Schoenberg can be reached at sschoenberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shiraschoenberg.
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