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As Huntsman backs Romney, Santorum sees pairing of 'moderates'

January 16, 2012|By John Hoeffel
  • Rick Santorum leaves after addressing a town hall meeting at Percy & Willies restaurant in Florence, S.C., on Sunday.
Rick Santorum leaves after addressing a town hall meeting at Percy &… (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Columbia, S.C. — Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum acknowledged that Jon Huntsman Jr.'s departure from the GOP presidential primary would give front-runner Mitt Romney a boost in South Carolina, but declined to call on Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who also trails badly in the polls, to pull out.

"That's up for candidates themselves to decide," he said.

Huntsman's decision still leaves the race with four candidates dicing up the conservative vote and desperately appealing to evangelical Christians, who will be a significant part of the turnout for Saturday's primary. The contest is expected to winnow the conservative candidates.

"I think it's important that we eventually consolidate this race," Santorum said, answering questions at a news conference at a country-style diner in the state capital. "It's not a matter of just coalescing behind a conservative. It's coalescing behind a conservative that can win."

Santorum said, with former Utah Gov. Huntsman out, Romney will likely pick up many of his supporters.

"Moderates are backing moderates, that's sort of the bottom line," he said, seeking to underscore his contention that former Massachusetts Gov. Romney is not a true conservative. "Romney had a leg up ... in being the solid moderate that the establishment could get behind, and Gov. Huntsman wasn't able to crack through that."

Taking aim at former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whom he sees as his main conservative rival in South Carolina, Santorum pointed out that he beat Gingrich in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, despite being outspent and winning no endorsements from influential newspapers. Noting that Gingrich has been telling South Carolinians he is the most electable, Santorum asked: "Then why did he finish behind me, if he was the most electable?"

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