GOP fight for delegates stretches to Puerto Rico

WASHINGTON (AP) — An upbeat Rick Santorum barreled into Puerto Rico on Wednesday in pursuit of another campaign-bending victory in a Republican presidential race where suddenly no primary is too minor nor any delegate is conceded. Up north, Mitt Romney put nearly $1 million into television advertising in Illinois, the next big-state showdown.

“If we keep winning races, eventually people are going to figure out that Gov. Romney is not going to be the nominee,” said Santorum, eager to build on Tuesday’s unexpected victories in Alabama and Mississippi.

Romney rebutted suggestions that he can’t appeal to core conservatives. “You don’t win a million more votes than anyone else in this race by just appealing to high-income Americans,” he said. “Some who are very conservative may not be in my camp, but they will be when I become the nominee, when I face Barack Obama.”

Despite losing twice in the South, a region he hoped to own in the race, Newt Gingrich showed no sign of abandoning his fading campaign.

That presumably suited Romney fine. But not so much Santorum, eager for a race in which he is the sole challenger on the right for Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.

The events of the previous 24 hours neatly summarized the most turbulent Republican presidential campaign in a generation.

Santorum’s primary victories in Mississippi and Alabama were the product of a wellspring of conservative support that overcame Romney’s overwhelming organizational and financial advantages in the race to pick a November opponent for Democrat Obama.

Yet despite his twin defeats in the South, Romney remains the faraway leader in the delegate chase. Incomplete returns showed him actually adding one or two to his advantage because of overnight caucus victories in Hawaii and American Samoa.

That division — headline-grabbing primary victories versus routine accumulation of delegates — emerged as an increasingly significant point of contention as Romney, Santorum and Gingrich selected facts and spun theories designed to put their own hopes in the best light.

Romney’s aides point out that he has more than half the delegates picked so far, and he has said he’s on track to win the nomination before the party convention opens in August.

Santorum’s camp outline a strategy that relies on increasing strength in later primaries coupled with outmaneuvering Romney in caucus states where the front-runner showed early strength but delegates have yet to be picked.

“Simply put, time is on our side,” the Santorum campaign said in a memo early in the week. The campaign pledged a floor fight at the Republican National Convention over the seating of winner-take-all delegations in Michigan and Florida, both of which Romney won. It also envisioned two or three rounds of convention balloting before a nominee is selected.

With a handful of delegates yet to be allocated from Tuesday’s races, the Associated Press tally showed Romney with 495 of the 1,144 needed for the nomination. Santorum had 252, Gingrich 131 and Ron Paul 46.

In a year of up-and-down turnout, Republican primary voters in Alabama and Mississippi cast ballots in record numbers.

Unofficial Alabama turnout was 621,549, topping the previous high, 554,639 in 2008, by 12 percent.

In Mississippi, unofficial turnout was 289,826, surpassing the previous high, 158,526 in 1988, by 83 percent.

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