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Santorum wins Louisiana, next matchup Wisconsin

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Rick Santorum won the Louisiana primary Saturday, solidifying his support among conservatives in the Deep South as he faces a tough next couple of weeks in state competitions that are predicted to favor frontrunner Mitt Romney. 

The former Pennsylvania senator won 49 percent of the vote, with Romney coming in second with 27 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in third with 17 percent and Texas Rep. Ron Paul finishing last with 6 percent.

“People in Louisiana came through in a big way,” Santorum said from a brewery in Green Bay, Wisc. “You didn’t get the memo. We’re still fighting. … I’m not running as the conservative candidate for president. I am the conservative candidate.”

Santorum said Romney called to congratulate him.

“I told him I was in (Wisconsin.) He said he was out in California raising money,” Santorum said. “I said leave a little bit for me. … We’ve always had cordial conversations.”

Romney issued a statement on his second place finish Saturday night, keeping with his recent campaign strategy of focusing on President Obama.

"Ann and I thank all the voters of Louisiana who took part in today’s primary and she joins me in congratulating Rick Santorum," the statement read. "Every day that passes with President Obama in the White House is a missed opportunity for America to get back on the right path. It’s time for all Americans to come together and help return our country to the conservative principles that made America free and prosperous, secure and respected around the world."

The statement also mentioned Romney was "very pleased" to receive over 25 percent of the vote, as it allowed him to win some of the state's delegates.

Only 20 of Louisiana's 46 delegates were awarded in the primary, as most of the others will be selected at the Louisiana state GOP convention in June.

Romney picked up five of these delegates, raising his total of 568. Santorum grabbed 10 and now has 273.

The candidates now head into April 3 contests in Maryland, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. 

The key contest is expected to be in Wisconsin, which has Swing State status, with Maryland and the District largely Democratic territories. In addition, Santorum is not on the District ballot.

Santorum has now won 11 states, while Romney has won 20 states or territories. Gingrich has won two states, while Paul has not won any.

However, Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has amassed more than twice as many delegates as Santorum nationwide and is nearly halfway to the 1,144  needed to clinch the Republican presidential nomination.

Still, none of the other candidates appear ready to drop out, and the race is expected to continue through the remaining primaries in June and into the nominating convention in August.

Among the key states remaining are New York, Texas and California, in addition to Wisconsin.

“The race is far from over,” Santorum said Saturday night. “Wisconsin, I say to you, let’s get it on.”

Santorum did well in Louisiana with evangelical and conservative voters, as he has in other Deep South states. 

However, he also edged out Romney among self-described moderate voters and those who consider the economy the most important issue, according to Fox News exit polls.

It’s a solid victory for Santorum, though Romney remains the national front-runner. 

Romney entered the Louisiana primary after a solid, 12-percentage point victory Tuesday in Illinois over Santorum, his closest rival. 

However, Santorum has seemed poised for a strong showing in Louisiana all week, with a double-digit lead in the polls leading up to the contest.

Many had considered Louisiana one of Romney's last chances to show he can win in the Deep South before the campaigns head north for roughly the next six weeks. 

Louisiana had a closed primary, meaning only registered Republicans could vote. Roughly eight in 10 in the exit poll said they consider themselves Republicans on most political matters, and three-quarters called themselves conservatives.

Seven in 10 said they support the Tea Party movement, roughly the same numbers recorded 11 days ago in the Mississippi primary won by Santorum.

Nearly a quarter of the Louisiana voters said choosing a candidate who is a true conservative was important, according to the exit polls.

Santorum and Gingrich attended the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference on Saturday. 

Santorum told the crowd he didn't always understand the conservatives' frustration with Washington, but said he comprehends it now.

He also said his 2006 reelection loss helped him grasp that frustration.

He made the remarks before going to Wisconsin for the AFP Defending the Dream Conference. The state's primary in April 3.

Santorum went bowling there and told the crowd at the end of his speech he wouldn't need the bumpers like President Obama. He bowled three strikes in a row.

Romney also has reached the 40-percent mark among voters, according to a Gallup poll released Friday. The poll showed Santorum with 26 percent among Republican voters nationwide in interviews conducted in the days surrounding the Illinois primary. This marks the first time a candidate has reached 40 percent during the primaries.

Gingrich finished third with 14 percent and Ron Paul received 8 percent, according to Gallup, which polled 1,157 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.