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The race continues

Politics | Mitt Romney wins the numbers on Super Tuesday, but Rick Santorum remains strong among evangelical, pro-life voters

The 10 states voting in primaries and caucuses on Super Tuesday brought Mitt Romney closer to the Republican presidential nomination by the numbers, but he couldn't sway support from evangelicals and pro-life voters who stuck with Rick Santorum. The delegate results, and the large, intransigent swath of the Republican electorate voting for Santorum indicated that the GOP presidential primary race will chug onward.

"We have won races all over this country against the odds," Santorum said Tuesday night in Steubenville, Ohio, before the swing state's results were known. "We keep coming back."

Meanwhile in Massachusetts, Romney promised his supporters, "I am not going to let you down. I am going to get this nomination."

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According to numbers Tuesday evening, Romney squeaked by with a win over Santorum in Ohio, a big prize. Romney also won his home state of Massachusetts, Vermont, Idaho, Alaska, and Virginia, where only Romney and Ron Paul qualified for the ballot. (Paul snagged a substantial 41 percent of the vote there, another disconcerting signal to Romney.) Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia, as expected. Santorum won Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Dakota.

More than 400 delegates were up for grabs Tuesday from the 1,144 needed for the nomination. Romney leads the delegate count now by at least 100 over Santorum, while Gingrich trails in third and Paul brings up the rear. The state delegates are awarded proportionally in most cases making the nominee math complicated. The proportional allocation, rather than a winner-take-all approach of previous years, means that no one had a really huge night by the numbers. The Republican National Committee changed the rules for this election to draw out the primary and give more states a chance to have input in the nominating process. While Romney won the most delegates, Santorum won enough delegates to justify staying in the race and raising more money.

Although Romney could claim success numbers-wise, the night indicated how little appeal he has among evangelicals. According to CNN exit polls in Oklahoma, Santorum won evangelical support by 17 points. For voters who said abortion was the most important issue to them, Santorum beat Romney 68 percent to 9 percent. Santorum won every age group in the state except those 65 and older.

Santorum's Tennessee exit poll numbers mirrored those in Oklahoma-he won every age group except seniors, and won evangelical and pro-life voters by huge margins. In his remarks Tuesday evening, Santorum pointed out his geographical diversity in previously winning Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado. Romney has won states across the country, too, but Virginia (where Santorum and Gingrich were not on the ballot) is the only Southern state he has managed to win.

"We've won in the West, the Midwest, and the South," said Santorum. "In every case, we overcame the odds." Gingrich insisted he was still in it: "I'm the tortoise. I just take it one step at a time."

As the primary race continues, Santorum can continue to compete with Romney in part because of Red, White, and Blue, the super PAC that supports him, but he also took in a substantial $9 million in the last month as he surged to the front of the pack. His resilience Tuesday is likely to bring in more cash to his coffers.

"[The candidates] are not going to move until people run out of money," said Soren Dayton, a Republican strategist with New Media Strategies who isn't working with any of the candidates. "I don't see a Santorum voter saying, 'Rick's still in the race but I'm going to vote for Mitt Romney because I want it to be done.' … The world is not working for them and they want someone who understands."

Dayton said Gingrich, Santorum, and Romney all have had an "inability to be focused on a message that appeals to a large swath of the Republican electorate. In the end each of them are sort of getting trapped in some gaffe that emphasizes their limited appeal outside of their socioeconomic base."

In Santorum's remarks in Steubenville, he shifted his tone, focusing on the economy, healthcare reform, and federal spending-broadly appealing points to Republican voters. "The leaders in Washington are saying to you: on your tab," he said to a frenzied crowd. "What right does the government have to do that to the next generation?"

Romney in his Tuesday night remarks also directed anger at Washington, but with less frenzied results. "The truth is, 8 percent unemployment is not the best America can do. It's just the best this administration can do."

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