Santorum claims victory in Iowa caucus

Conservatives urged to stick with hopeful

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MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. — Rick San­torum pleaded Thursday with conservatives not to give up on his presidential hopes, urging them to resist calls to rally behind Newt Gingrich.

Republican presidential candidate and former Sen. Rick Santorum speakers at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Charleston, S.C.  CHRIS KEANE/REUTERS
CHRIS KEANE/REUTERS
Republican presidential candidate and former Sen. Rick Santorum speakers at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Charleston, S.C.

“If we are going to be successful in this race, we have to nominate someone who is going to make Barack Obama the issue in this race, not be the issue himself in the race,” Santorum said ahead of the final debate before South Carolina’s primary Saturday. “We can’t have a candidate that, every day when you open the newspaper, it’s an ‘Oh, my – oh, what did he say today?’ moment. We need someone who is stable.”

As proof that Santorum is still a viable candidate, the former Pennsylvania senator pointed to a new endorsement from James Dobson, who founded the conservative Focus on the Family organization, and updated results from the Iowa caucuses that show Santorum actually edged Mitt Romney in the first state to weigh in on the GOP nomination battle.

“There have been two contests,” Santorum said. “We won one.”

He made that claim even though the Iowa GOP did not declare a victor because of missing ballots at some precincts.

Santorum bested Romney by 34 votes in the final tally of Iowa’s caucuses, Republican officials said Thursday. But no winner was declared because some votes remain uncertified two weeks after the event’s closest contest ever. The state GOP initially declared Romney the victor – by just eight votes.

“This is a solid win. It’s a much stronger win than the win Gov. Romney claimed to have,” Santorum declared.

With Romney running strong in the polls and fundraising, conservatives who oppose his nomination are trying to build a coalition around one of their own before Saturday’s primary in South Carolina.

Santorum, a former senator from Penn­sylvania, said that choice should be him – and not Gingrich, who picked up the endorsement of one-time contender Rick Perry earlier in the day.

Santorum is knitting together a grass-roots organization of socially conservative Republicans, including pastors, similar to that which helped him finish in Iowa.

Santorum’s advisers, however, worried that Romney has an advantage among voters who have already cast absentee ballots.

Santorum urged conservatives to consider his rivals’ priorities on social issues.

“Congressman Gingrich routinely puts these issues at the back of the bus and sees them as controversial issues that need to be avoided,” he said.

Santorum also urged conservatives to imagine what a head-to-head contest with President Obama will hold. He said both Gingrich and Romney had shared Obama’s views on the Wall Street bailout and health care mandates in the past, muting potential criticism of the incumbent president.

IOWA WON’T NAME WINNER

Iowa Republican chairman Matt Strawn said the party would not name an official winner because the results were so close and some votes couldn’t be counted.

Results from eight of the state’s 1,774 precincts were not certified to the state party by Wednesday’s 5 p.m. deadline.

It was Strawn who had stepped before a microphone shortly before 2 a.m. in Des Moines on Jan. 4 to declare Mitt Romney the victor.

Romney called the Iowa results a “virtual tie.” Santorum called it a sign that any calls for him to leave were premature.

– Associated Press


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