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Santorum backers pressuring Gingrich to bow out of presidential race

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March 6: Rick Santorum, left, and Newt Gingrich are shown on the campaign trail on Super Tuesday.AP

Rick Santorum's supporters, the morning after their candidate pulled out three Super Tuesday victories, began to apply serious pressure to Newt Gingrich to bow out of the presidential race -- arguing the former speaker is standing in the way of a fair fight between Santorum and Mitt Romney.

Santorum won Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota on Super Tuesday, and in terms of the delegate count is in a solid second place. 

The super PAC supporting the former Pennsylvania senator claimed Wednesday that Santorum -- who was overshadowed by Romney's victories in Ohio and five other states -- would have had a much bigger night had it not been for Gingrich's presence. Gingrich kept his campaign alive by winning Georgia Tuesday. 

"With Gingrich exiting the race it would be a true head-to-head race and conservatives would be able to make a choice between a consistent conservative in Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney," Stuart Roy, an adviser to the Santorum-backing Red, White and Blue Fund, said in a statement. 

"For instance, with Gingrich out of the race, Santorum would have won both Ohio and Michigan. Newt has become a hindrance to a conservative alternative." 

As Santorum's supporters pressured Gingrich, Romney's campaign touted its newly expanded delegate advantage on Wednesday. One Romney adviser claimed it would take an "act of God" for Gingrich or Santorum to catch that lead. 

Gingrich, though, made clear that he plans to press forward.

"We are staying in this race because I believe it will be impossible for a moderate to win the general election," Gingrich said Wednesday in Montgomery, Ala., referencing Romney. 

As for Santorum, Gingrich said: "There is a big difference between being a good team member and changing the game. I'm not going to Washington to be a good team member. I'm going to Washington to change Washington itself." 

Gingrich said Tuesday at his post-election rally in Atlanta that he's not going to let the "elite" decide the nomination, ridiculing those who declared his campaign "dead" over the summer before he won South Carolina in January -- and suggesting he is ripe for another surge. 

Gingrich claimed the media are depicting Santorum as the "non-Romney" candidate because they are desperate to push him out, but added: "I'm the tortoise. I just take one step at a time."

The former House speaker earned words of encouragement Tuesday night from the GOP's 2008 vice presidential nominee. Sarah Palin, though she has not formally endorsed a candidate, told Fox News that she cast her ballot for Gingrich in the Alaska caucuses Tuesday. She praised his energy policy as "spot on," acknowledging he is the "underdog" in the race. Gingrich placed fourth in the four-man race in Alaska.

GOP strategist Ed Rollins suggested Gingrich would not be swayed by calls to bow out. "At the end of the day, no one tells Newt to quit," Rollins said. 

However, Rollins said, "Unfortunately, the tortoise may get run over by a truck." 

Santorum is already moving aggressively into the southern states Gingrich wants to target in order to regain his footing. The Santorum campaign on Wednesday is going up with $1 million ad buys in Alabama and in Mississippi, which hold primaries next week. 

Gingrich is banking on a string of victories in southern states, after having won South Carolina and Georgia. Underscoring that approach, his campaign has cancelled stops in Kansas ahead of that state's caucuses, and plans on staying in Mississippi and Alabama to campaign, Fox News has learned. The campaign claimed it made the "tactical" decision in order to focus on primary states instead of caucus states -- and push for a "bigger win" there. 

But the Santorum super PAC argued that Gingrich does not have the "southern appeal" he claims, counting as evidence Santorum's win Tuesday night in Tennessee. In total, Santorum has won seven states to Gingrich's two. 

Romney, meanwhile, racked up the wins Tuesday night in Ohio, Vermont, Virginia, Idaho, Alaska and Massachusetts. 

Coming out of Super Tuesday, Romney has a big delegate lead with 415. Santorum trails with 176. Behind those two candidates are Gingrich with 105 and Ron Paul with 47. 

Santorum strategist John Brabender claimed Tuesday night that some of those delegates linked to Gingrich could still shift to Santorum, because they "aren't necessarily binding delegates."

Nudging Gingrich, he said that "if conservatives and Tea Party supporters unite behind Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney will not be the nominee." 

Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond fired back, saying the "same logic applies in reverse -- I am officially calling for John Brabender to drop out and stop selling a pipe dream."