Santorum backers step up pressure on Gingrich

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks at his election night rally at Steubenville High School, Tuesday, March 6, 2012, in Steubenville, Ohio. AP Photo/Eric Gay

Rick Santorum
AP Photo/Eric Gay

Updated 12:45 p.m. ET

The outside group backing Rick Santorum for president is stepping up its efforts to force former House speaker Newt Gingrich to give up his bid for the presidency.

The Red White and Blue fund, the super PAC backing the former Pennsylvania senator, said Thursday it was spending more than half a million dollars in Alabama and Mississippi to run television and radio ads aimed at helping Santorum. Gingrich has said Alabama and Mississippi are must wins, as he has bet his entire candidacy on winning Southern states to build momentum for his campaign.

Gingrich has repeatedly said he is not dropping out. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is leading the delegate count, with 391 of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination, according to estimates compiled by CBS News. Santorum is in second place with 140, while Gingrich is in third place with 95 delegates.

"On the heels of our call for Newt Gingrich to unite conservatives by exiting the race, now we are investing heavily in the next two primary states to ensure that happens with a Santorum victory," said Stuart Roy, an adviser to the super PAC.

"Then voters will be able to have a choice between an authentic conservative in Santorum and a calculated conservative in Mitt Romney," Roy said. The fund called for Gingrich to drop out on Wednesday after spending about $800,000 helping Santorum finish in a close second place in Ohio on Tuesday.

Santorum, for his part, is letting others do his dirty work.

"I'm not saying I don't want him to get out. if he wants to get out, I'm all for him getting out. I'm for Mitt Romney getting out. I wish President Obama would just hand me the thing, but that's not going to happen," Santorum told reporters in Kansas Wednesday.

Top Santorum strategist John Brabender had earlier said that Santorum would win the nomination if conservatives could rally around one candidate to take on front-runner Mitt Romney.

While Gingrich and Santorum have been fighting for votes from the conservative wing of the party, it is not clear how many Gingrich backers would switch to Santorum. Some might not vote at all and Romney could be expected to get some portion of those voters.

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    CBSNews.com Deputy Politics Editor Corbett B. Daly is based in Washington. He has worked at Reuters, Thomson Financial News and CBS MarketWatch.

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