Pro-Santorum super PAC calls on Gingrich to drop out

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Santorum and Gingrich
CBS/AP

Updated 11:30 a.m. ET

(CBS News) - The drumbeat for Newt Gingrich to leave the Republican presidential race just got a little bit louder with the largest third-party financial backer of Rick Santorum publicly calling on the former House speaker to drop out.

The Red, White and Blue Fund, a pro-Santorum Super PAC, which spent $800,000 in advertising on behalf of Santorum in Ohio, said that Gingrich is siphoning votes from Santorum for an unworthy quest.

"Based on his electoral performance last night and his out-of-step record, it is time for Newt Gingrich to exit the Republican nominating process," said Stuart Roy, a Red White and Blue Fund adviser.

On Bill Bennett Show Wednesday, Gingrich vowed to stay in the race. He noted the highs and lows throughout the race and said, "I think you have to wait and see how the race goes on."

But Roy said Gingrich's only win in his home state on Super Tuesday proves that he will not win the nomination and that his determination to stay in the race is hurting Santorum and is benefiting Mitt Romney.

"Newt has become a hindrance to a conservative alternative," Roy said. "With Gingrich exiting the race it would be a true head-to-head race and conservatives would be able to make a choice between a consistent conservative in Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney."

Roy told CBS News that it is "unclear" if the Red White and Blue Fund will take the message directly to the voter through advertising, but in the meantime, it is a "direct message" to candidate Gingrich.

Even though the candidates are not to coordinate with the Super PAC's, the public comments echo behind-the-scenes statements by the Santorum campaign Tuesday night as Super Tuesday polls closed.

John Brabender, a senior strategist for Rick Santorum, said polls show that Gingrich supporters, who trend toward more conservative, would go to Rick Santorum "in big numbers."

"So what conservative and tea party folks are going to have a decision to make: do we want Mitt Romney to be the nominee or not or do we want to just keep splitting our vote?" Brabender said.

Gingrich is focusing on a southern-state strategy and promises to continue in the race through the Texas primary at the end of May.

But Santorum's campaign points out that Gingrich's poor showing in the southern states of Tennessee and Oklahoma show that his mission is futile.

"Tennessee, a border state with Gingrich's home state of Georgia, was a solid victory for Santorum and with his third place finish in the Volunteer State it was a rejection of the idea that Gingrich has any southern appeal," Roy said.

While the Santorum campaign and the Red, White and Blue Fund say Gingrich had a weak performance Tuesday, Gingrich beat Santorum Tuesday night in the delegate count. Gingrich obtained 50 delegates - largely due to his decisive win in delegate-rich Georgia - compared to the 47 delegates Santorum won. (Although Santorum is in second in the overall delegate count with 112 to Romney's 361 delegates.)

The Santorum campaign says Santorum would have won both Ohio, which he lost by 1 point, and the previous contest of Michigan, which he lost by 3 points, if Gingrich was not in the race.

After Gingrich won South Carolina, discussion erupted about Santorum dropping out. At that time, Gingrich publicly dismissed discussion about his opponent.

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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