Santorum asks Gingrich voters to join him. Will they in Louisiana?

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at a town hall meeting at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, La., Tuesday, March 20, 2012. AP Photo/Kita Wright

Newt Gingrich
AP Photo/Kita Wright

For some time, Rick Santorum's presidential campaign has argued the former senator would be winning more votes -- and thus, more delegates -- in the Republican presidential primary if Newt Gingrich were to drop out.

The Illinois primary provided the latest evidence that may not be the case. Furthermore, Gingrich continues to insist he's going all the way to the Republican National Convention in August.

Hence, the Santorum campaign Tuesday night slightly recalibrated its message. Rather than calling on Gingrich to drop out, the Santorum campaign asked Gingrich voters to join them. There's some evidence Santorum's pitch could work in Louisiana, the next state to hold its primary.

After Santorum lost by a double-digit margin to Mitt Romney in Illinois Tuesday night, Santorum's chief strategist John Brabender told reporters, "It's time for Gingrich supporters to get behind us if they truly want a conservative candidate."

"We need not only Gingrich supporters," he added. "We would love to have Newt Gingrich be an important voice for our campaign, quite frankly. We would like to have people that are working for Gingrich to be working for us."

Based on remarks he made to Fox News' Sean Hannity Tuesday night, it doesn't look like Gingrich will be joining the Santorum team any time soon.

"Frankly, Sen. Santorum, who I like personally, I think has a hard time explaining why the guy who set the all-time record for losing Pennsylvania, somebody who... as part of the leadership ran up a trillion, $700 billion in deficits, and was part of the largest defeat since Watergate in 2006, as part of the leadership, [should be president]," Gingrich said. "I'm staying in this race because I really do think it's a question of who can beat Barack Obama."

He added that, after finishing fourth in Illinois, "I think we have a much better chance of winning in Louisiana."

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While the former House speaker may not like the idea, the latest poll out of Louisiana suggests Gingrich supporters could get behind Santorum.

A poll conducted March 19 by Magellan, a Republican firm that uses robocalling, Santorum leads in Louisiana with 37 percent. Romney carries 24 percent support while Gingrich takes 21 percent. The poll has a 2.18-point margin of error. In a two-person race between Santorum and Romney, Santorum's lead widens to a 21-point margin (55 percent to 34 percent). As many as 61 percent of Gingrich supporters would move to the Santorum column, according to the poll, while just 22 percent would back Romney.

In North Carolina, which holds its Republican primary on May 8, the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling shows Romney in the lead with 31 percent while Santorum wins 27 percent and Gingrich 24 percent. However, the poll suggests that if Gingrich were to drop out, Santorum would lead with 42 percent to Romney's 38 percent.

Polling is scant in other states where Gingrich's decision to stay in or drop out could make a difference, such as Texas or Arkansas.

Furthermore, there's enough evidence to suggest Santorum could have to proactively court Gingrich voters rather than just let them flock to his campaign as Gingrich loses steam. In Illinois, CBS News exit polling showed that if it came down to Santorum versus Romney, 8 percent of Santorum's share of support would come from Gingrich voters while 6 percent of Romney's supporters would come from former Gingrich backers.

A recent Gallup poll also suggested that nationally, Gingrich supporters would split between Santorum and Romney.

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