Santorum hopes to benefit from Romney-Gingrich fight

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum gives a thumbs-up after speaking during a South Carolina Republican presidential primary-night rally at The Citadel, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012, in Charleston, S.C. Santorum says it's a "wide open race" for the GOP nomination, even after finishing a distant third in Saturday's primary. He'd hoped to build momentum from a late victory in the Iowa caucuses. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt) AP

Rick Santorum
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum
AP

VENICE, Fla. - As Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich spend the opening days of the Florida primary pummeling each other in speeches and attack ads, Rick Santorum is in no hurry to pile onto the fight.

"Sometimes sitting on the sidelines watching two people destroy each other creates an opportunity in and of itself," Santorum told reporters on Monday as he toured a PGT Manufacturing, a window manufacturing plant here.

"As we saw in South Carolina, the race changed dramatically in a matter of days, in a week and we've got better than a week here before the Florida vote and lets just see how this race starts to evolve. We're here, we're going to be talking about the issues that are important to the state of Florida, to the country."

But the former Pennsylvania senator isn't going to be putting all of his chips in the Florida basket. He told reporters that he won't be spending all of his time in the state, but will be focusing on the contests in Nevada, Colorado and Mississippi, all of which happen in the week following the Florida primary.

"We're looking at this as a race that's going to go well beyond Florida and so we want to make sure that we're in those states and laying the groundwork in those states," he said.

He's banking on the long-shot possibility that that Florida will switch from a winner-take-all system to apportioning its delegates proportionally, which would allow Santorum to pick up some support from a state where is not expected to win.

"It's winner-takes-all unless its not," he said. "There's an opportunity for in some congressional districts maybe to pull of a surprise here and there."

The entire GOP primary, he added, is a cautionary tale. "If there's one thing you can predict about this race, is that you can't predict about this race," he said.

  • Rebecca Kaplan On Twitter»

    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.

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