Santorum overlooks loss in Illinois, looks ahead to Pennsylvania and Louisiana

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, stands with his family as he speaks at his primary election night rally in Gettysburg, Pa., Tuesday, March 20, 2012. Pictured left to right, sons John and Daniel, daughters Elizabeth and Sarah Maria, and wife Karen. AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Rick Santorum
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
(CBS News) GETTYSBURG, Pa. - Despite an double-digit loss in the state of Illinois, Rick Santorum celebrated his success in the southern part of the state and looked ahead to the Louisiana and Pennsylvania primaries to recapture momentum for his campaign.

"We won the areas that conservatives and Republicans populate, we're very happy about that, we're happy about the delegates we're going to get," he told a crowd of hundreds. He told an overflow crowd outside of the ballroom that he predicted he would receive 15 to 17 delegates in the state, maybe even 20, "if we're lucky."

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But Santorum did not dwell on the loss during his speech, instead highlighting his roots in a blue collar part of his home state where he held his election night party. He promised big wins in the upcoming Louisiana primary on Saturday and the Pennsylvania primary next month.

"We're going to head to Louisiana from here, we're feeling very, very good about winning Louisiana on Saturday," he promised the crowd. And he reminded the voters of his home state that there were only five weeks left until the primary here, and said when it takes place, "we're going to pick up a whole boatload of delegates and close this gap and on to victory."

Santorum's drubbing in the state comes after Romney was able to turn a tight lead in the race to a yawning gap of double digits. Even as Santorum spent all of Saturday and Monday in the state, his poll numbers continued to plummet in the face of a wave of negative ads from Romney's campaign.

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Even before the bad numbers came in, Santorum's chief strategist, John Brabender, was trying to convince reporters that his candidate's poor showing in the Chicago suburbs was actually a plus.

"So [Romney's] able to do well in the collar counties of Chicago. Many of them are going to vote for Obama in the fall," he said. He argued that Santorum has a wider geographical reach than Romney and even said Santorum was faring better in a theoretical matchup against President Obama in Florida than Romney was, even though Romney won the state.

"People are getting too focused on winning states. That's not the contest anymore. The contest is winning your share of stuff," Brabender added.

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Santorum himself insisted it wasn't a loss, saying that expectations had been very low for him in the state. "We did what we had to do, we got the delegates that we could get," he told reporters after the speech as he shook hands with supporters.

"It's very clear it's a two-person race and now we'll get all the conservatives to line up behind us," he said, seemingly not an argument that his rival Newt Gingrich needs to get out of the race but that he is simply irrelevant at this point.

"It's time for Gingrich supporters to get behind us if they truly want a conservative candidate," Brabender told reporters, adding that Santorum would like to have Gingrich as a voice in his campaign.

"We need not only Gingrich supporters. 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," he added.

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

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