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Santorum beats Romney in Louisiana

His victory in Louisiana gives Rick Santorum bragging rights, but it does not change the overall dynamics of the race. He still dramatically lags behind Mitt Romney in the hunt for delegates.

By Kasie Hunt and Philip ElliottAssociated Press / March 24, 2012

Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum shakes hands, signs autographs, and takes photos with supporters at his prep rally Friday in Shreveport, La. Santorum kept his campaign alive with a strong win in Louisiana's GOP primary Saturday.

Henrietta Wildsmith/The Shreveport Times/AP

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Washington

Rick Santorum won the Louisiana Republican presidential primary Saturday, beating front-runner Mitt Romney in yet another conservative Southern state.

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Although the victory gives Santorum bragging rights, it does not change the overall dynamics of the race; the former Pennsylvania senator still dramatically lags behind Romney in the hunt for delegates to the GOP's summertime nominating convention.

Even so, Santorum's win underscores a pattern in the drawn-out race.

The under-funded under-dog has tended to win in Bible Belt states that include Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. Romney – a deep-pocketed, highly organized former Massachusetts governor – has persistently struggled in such heavily conservative regions.

Neither candidate was in the state as Louisiana Republicans weighed in. Nor was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was trailing in Louisiana.

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.

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Early exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks showed that Santorum's win in Louisiana was one of his strongest performances to date among conservatives, working class voters, and those calling the economy their top issue. And he continued his dominance among white evangelical voters and those looking for a candidate who shares their religious beliefs.

As in previous Southern states, Romney's best showing came among those voters with annual incomes above $100,000 and those who prioritized a candidate's ability to defeat President Barack Obama in November.

The bad economy was the top issue for Louisiana voters. Most were gloomy about prospects for a recovery, saying they felt the economy was getting worse instead of better. While some national surveys suggest Americans are feeling optimistic about economic improvement, just one in eight Republican primary voters said they thought a recovery was under way.

Santorum badly needed a rebound after a decisive Illinois loss to Romney earlier in the week that moved party stalwarts to rally around the front-runner. Many urged Santorum and Gingrich to drop out of the race.

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