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Can Santorum Survive? Can Santorum Survive?

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Can Santorum Survive?

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Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks to members of the media after a Republican presidential debate at North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012, in Charleston, S.C.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's campaign moved quickly Saturday night to squash any speculation that his campaign is over. But there's a reason to speculate: Santorum's disappointing finish shows he has all but lost the race to become the anti-Mitt Romney alternative to Newt Gingrich.

(GRAPHIC: Exit Poll Results from South Carolina)

Exit polls indicate that Santorum will finish a distant third in tonight's South Carolina primary, well behind Gingrich and Romney and only marginally ahead of Rep. Ron Paul. Santorum's campaign announced a 2:00 p.m. rally in Coral Springs, Florida, tomorrow, sending the signal that they're not finished yet. But tonight's results show Santorum's days are pretty well numbered.

That's despite Santorum's surprisingly good fortunes over the last month. He spent the vast majority of his campaign mired in the low single digits, then surged at exactly the right time to take advantage of a weak Republican field to win the Iowa caucuses -- though he only got to claim credit for that win late this week, after ballot snafus marred the caucuses. Santorum even got to claim support from major figures in the evangelical movement after they gathered to endorse his candidacy in Texas last weekend.

But luck shines on more than one person, and it's illuminating Gingrich tonight. Not only did Gingrich benefit from strong debate performances and from a timely endorsement by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, he also got a little help from his friends in the media.

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