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Rick Santorum Projected Winner of Louisiana Primary

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(The Blaze/AP) -- Rick Santorum is the winner of the Louisiana Republican presidential primary, defeating GOP front-runner Mitt Romney in yet another conservative Southern state.

Santorum is Romney's chief challenger and a former Pennsylvania senator who has won previous contests in Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.

The Louisiana victory was unlikely to change the overall dynamics of the race. Santorum still dramatically lags Romney - the former Massachusetts governor- in the hunt for delegate to the GOP's summertime nominating convention. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia was far behind in the Louisiana vote count.

Exit polls from the Saturday primary found that voters were economy-focused, and strongly backed their candidate. Santorum secured his widest margins of victory over Mitt Romney among the conservatives and evangelicals who have lifted his campaign across the South.

 

"We're still here. We're still fighting. We still believe, as this race really shows," Santorum told supporters in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The Louisiana victory gives Santorum bragging rights and at least nine more delegates. Neither candidate was in the state as Louisiana Republicans weighed in. Nor was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was trailing in Louisiana. With half the precincts counted, Santorum had 49 percent to 26 percent for Romney. Gingrich was far back at 17 percent, followed by Ron Paul with 6 percent.

Romney took a rare day off Saturday, with no public events. Santorum spent the day campaigning in Pennsylvania and next-up Wisconsin, which votes April 3 and represents one of his last chances to beat Romney in a Midwestern state. Santorum told voters in Milwaukee that he expected their state to be "the turning point in this race."

In an unmistakable jab at Romney, Santorum added: "Don't make the mistake that Republicans made in 1976. Don't nominate the moderate. When you do, we lose." It was a reference to Ronald Reagan losing the 1976 Republican nomination to incumbent President Gerald Ford, and Democrat Jimmy Carter winning the White House. The next key fight comes April 3 in Wisconsin.

Romney's campaign is airing TV ads in the state, and his super PAC allies have plowed more than $2 million into TV advertising there. Also voting April 3 are Maryland and the District of Columbia. There are 95 delegates combined at stake in the three contests.

Voters in New Orleans weigh in on what influenced their decision Saturday:

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