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Santorum: Conservatives will carry me to GOP nomination

Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum hopes to ride a conservative wave in the upcoming Alabama and Mississippi primaries to the GOP nomination — a calculation that depends heavily on netting evangelical and conservative voters in upcoming contests.A large number of Alabama and Mississippi Republican voters call themselves evangelicals, and Santorum, who has polled well with this group
TODAY

Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum hopes to ride a conservative wave in the upcoming Alabama and Mississippi primaries to the GOP nomination — a calculation that depends heavily on netting evangelical and conservative voters in upcoming contests.

A large number of Alabama and Mississippi Republican voters call themselves evangelicals, and Santorum, who has polled well with this group, hopes to fare well on Tuesday. However, as TODAY’s Ann Curry pointed out during an interview with the former Pennsylvania senator this morning, he would have to net more than 60 percent of the remaining delegates in the upcoming contests to clinch the nomination.

Santorum remained confident. “We’re going to move to states where I have much more of an advantage,” he told Curry from Biloxi, Miss., where he is campaigning. “The math is not the issue. The issue is vision. The issue is Governor Romney, having outspent me 10 to one, is still not able to close the deal.”

In fact, closing the deal will prove difficult for all four remaining GOP contenders. A presidential candidate needs 1,144 candidates at this summer’s Tampa, Fla., convention to lock the party’s nomination. Romney has 377, according to an NBC News tally. Santorum has 146, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has 112, and Texas congressman Ron Paul has 31.

However, some factors will help Santorum connect well with working class, evangelical and socially conservative voters, said Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta. He is the descendant of coal miners and the grandson of immigrants.

“He has a story that makes sense,” Gillespie said. He is also “someone who has been consistent and has modeled that in his life, and that especially appeals when there is not a clear evangelical in the race. Social conservatives are starting to (focus) around Santorum.”

But Santorum’s campaign has also had several missteps that may prove costly. Due to paperwork errors, he wasn’t on the ballot in Virginia on Super Tuesday, and he likely won’t be on the ballot in Washington D.C.’s winner-take-all primary either. He may also face problems claiming all the delegates he won in Ohio because his campaign didn’t address issues connected to state eligibility rules.

Though Santorum will appear on the Illinois ballot in the upcoming March 20 primary, similar red-tape mistakes means he won’t be able to win some delegates. “Santorum came late and there are organizational deficits as well,” Gillespie said.

Still, Santorum expressed confidence that “the conservative in this race is going to rise” and he will secure the Republican presidential nomination.

 “They are not going to nominate a Massachusetts moderate,” he said. See the full interview below.

 TODAY.com political contributor Halimah Abdullah is the site’s woman in Washington.

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