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Santorum Makes Inroads Into Romney Territory in Big Louisiana Win Santorum Makes Inroads Into Romney Territory in Big Louisiana Win

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CAMPAIGN 2012

Santorum Makes Inroads Into Romney Territory in Big Louisiana Win

But Romney's commanding delegate lead means Santorum's 'bayou blowout' is unlikely to change the trajectory of the race.

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Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum talks with supporters during a stop at Sweet Peppers Deli, Sunday, March 11, 2012, in Tupelo, Miss.  (AP Photo/Eric Gay)(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Rick Santorum's convincing win in Saturday's Louisiana Republican presidential primary was fueled by the same groups that have supported his candidacy in other contests -- but the state's more conservative and more religious GOP electorate also allowed Santorum to defeat Mitt Romney among the constituencies that have gone for Romney in the past.

Exit polls show Santorum continuing to run well among the most conservative, less educated, lower- and middle-income voters that have propelled him to wins in other Southern and Midwestern states. His inroads into some traditional Romney constituencies included first-time wins among non-evangelical voters and voters who make more than $100,000 a year.

 

Santorum's campaign called his "bayou blowout" a game-changer, asserting that "this two-man race is just beginning." But Romney's delegate lead and the nature of the electorates in upcoming primaries make that unlikely.

Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, ran up huge margins among lower- and middle-income voters in Louisiana. He bested former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 56 percent to 19 percent, among those voters making less than $50,000 a year, who made up slightly more than a quarter of the electorate. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, struggled among this group, finishing third, with 16 percent. Romney has only won low-income voters in a handful of states, including Illinois last week.

Among voters making between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, Santorum again won big, capturing 51 percent of the voters, to Romney's 26 percent. The winner of this bloc has captured most of the primaries thus far, though Santorum won this group in Ohio and Michigan, despite losing narrowly in both states to Romney.

 

But Santorum also won among those voters making more than $100,000 a year -- the first time in this nominating process that he has won among the more managerial wing of the party in states where entrance or exit polls were conducted. He took 42 percent of this group, compared to 34 percent for Romney, who had won higher-income voters in every state except South Carolina and Georgia, where Gingrich won handily.

Santorum continued to excel -- and Romney continued to struggle -- among the most conservative and most religious voters. Nearly half of voters on Saturday identified as "very conservative," and Santorum won 53 percent of them, to 23 percent for Romney and 18 percent for Gingrich. The only states in which Romney has won the most conservative voters are hardly GOP bastions: New Hampshire, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and Virginia (where only Romney and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, were on the ballot).

Santorum also won a majority of white evangelical or born-again Christians, beating Romney by 35 points among this group. But the two candidates also ran neck-and-neck among non-evangelical voters: Santorum won those who did not identify as white evangelicals by three percentage points, while Romney won by one among all non-evangelicals. Romney had won the non-evangelical vote in every state except Georgia, where Gingrich won in a landslide in his home state.

Louisiana Catholics, who accounted for more than a third of voters on Saturday, preferred Santorum over Romney, 46 percent to 30 percent. It was only the second time this cycle that Santorum, who is Catholic, has won among voters who say they share his faith -- though in other Southern states, Catholics made up such a small percentage of the electorate that exit poll results were not considered significant.

 

But Santorum continues to run stronger among Protestants -- particularly those who attend church more frequently -- than among Catholics. He defeated Romney, who is Mormon, by 28 points among Protestants on Saturday, and by 37 points among Protestants who attend services on a weekly basis.

Romney continues to enjoy an advantage in electability, but Santorum gained slightly on that question in Louisiana. A plurality of voters -- 38 percent -- said the most important candidate quality was the ability to defeat President Obama in the general election, and Romney won half of them, compared to just 30 percent for Santorum. Romney has won these voters in every state except South Carolina and Georgia, where Gingrich won them.

Asked which candidate was most likely to defeat Obama, voters were less decisive: 42 percent chose Romney, while 34 percent selected Santorum. That represents a slight drop for Romney. In Illinois last week, 60 percent of voters thought he was the most likely candidate to beat Obama, and Romney also performed better on this question on March 13 in Alabama (46 percent) and Mississippi (49 percent). In each of the March 13 Southern states, despite Santorum's wins there, voters thought Gingrich was just as likely as Santorum to defeat Obama.

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Santorum's stronger performance in Louisiana is unlikely to alter the race significantly. Romney remains well ahead in the delegate race, and on April 3, when the next slate of primaries will be held, it will be outside the South in Maryland, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. In Maryland and Wisconsin this week, automated-telephone polls -- which do not meet National Journal's standards for publication -- showed Romney well ahead of Santorum. Santorum is not even on the ballot in the District.

Edison Research conducted the Louisiana exit poll Saturday at polling places across the state for the National Election Pool, a consortium of news organizations. The Louisiana exit poll consists of interviews with 1,499 voters.

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