In an effort to quell the firestorm he ignited earlier this week, on Friday GOP presidential nominee Rick Santorum said, "I always have said I would vote for the nominee of the Republican Party, no matter who it was."

Poised to do well in Saturday's Louisiana GOP presidential primary, a defensive Santorum sought to explain comments he made earlier in the week, when he suggested fellow candidate Mitt Romney and President Obama are so similar on the issues, Republicans might just as well vote to give the president a second term instead of casting ballots for Romney.

In a phone interview with Fox News channel's Neil Cavuto, a fiery Santorum said, "This is a made-up story...That's just absurd. It's laughable. The idea this is a gaffe is a joke."

His comments followed a written statement the campaign released earlier in the day, that said, "I would never vote for Barack Obama over any Republican and to suggest otherwise is preposterous."

It went on to blame Mitt Romney and the media for the attention his comments have gotten, and read in part, "This is just another attempt by the Romney Campaign to distort and distract the media and voters from the unshakeable fact that many of Romney's policies mirror Barack Obama's."

 

Meanwhile, GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich wasted little time in seizing the moment, and took aim at Santorum's struggles.

He told reporters in Port Fourchon, "I'm often cheerful about bashing the media. I don't think the media said that. I think it was Santorum who said it. So I it's a little tricky for him to attack them for reporting what he said. I'm pretty sure the videotape shows him saying it."

Despite trailing in most polls, both nationally and in Louisiana, and a fourth place finish in Tuesday's Illinois primary, Gingrich went on to say, "Look, we don't know what's going to happen tomorrow yet. I think Senator Santorum's mistake is likely to prove expensive."

An upbeat Gingrich also pointed to his recent success in the Pelican State, "We just won two straw polls by Tea Parties by huge margins in the state in the last week. I'm cheerful about going forward."

The latest Real Clear Politics average gives Santorum a 10-point lead over Mitt Romney in Louisiana, and an 18-point lead over Gingrich.

There are 46 delegates at stake in tomorrow's primary.