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Santorum's Super Tuesday surprise

By Jim Acosta, CNN National Political Correspondent
updated 8:57 AM EST, Wed March 7, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Rick Santorum loses Ohio by a slim margin
  • NEW: Santorum picks up at least three Super Tuesday wins
  • Santorum: "We're in this race. And we're in it to stay"
  • Candidate keeps up attacks on Mitt Romney during address to supporters

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Steubenville, Ohio (CNN) -- Upending the conventional wisdom that he would have a tough night on Super Tuesday, Rick Santorum beat expectations with at least three victories.

The former Pennsylvania senator won Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota. And in Ohio, Santorum lost by a slim margin in a race that came down to a difference of about 10,000 votes, according to the Ohio secretary of state's unofficial tally.

Santorum loses Ohio Catholic vote

"We have won in the West, the Midwest and the South and we're ready to win across this country," Santorum told supporters at his Super Tuesday party in Steubenville, Ohio.

Santorum was joined onstage by his wife, Karen, and family, including his 93-year-old mother.

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"We're in this race. And we're in it to stay," Santorum said. He argued his performance in Ohio was impressive considering how he was outspent by Mitt Romney.

Analysis: Romney win highlights trouble

During his speech, Santorum returned to his attacks on Romney, portraying the former Massachusetts governor as a weak opponent against President Barack Obama on the issue of health care reform.

"I've never passed a statewide government-run health care system when I was governor, because, well, I wasn't governor. But Gov. Romney did," Santorum said.

Santorum then referred to recent news reports indicating Romney had voiced some support for a national insurance mandate during the debate over health care reform in Washington.

"We need a person running against President Obama who is right on the issues and truthful with the American public," Santorum said.

5 things we learned from Super Tuesday

Throughout the night, Santorum's aides repeatedly approached reporters to raise questions about Romney's viability as a general-election candidate.

"I'll be interested to find out if Mitt Romney has won a Southern state today," Santorum adviser John Brabender quipped to reporters.

"If somebody can't do well in the South, then they shouldn't be running at all," Brabender said referring to Romney's losses in Georgia and Tennessee.

Brabender says the campaign wants a one-on-one matchup with Romney, suggesting Santorum could win the nomination with Gingrich out of the race.

Earlier Tuesday, Santorum adviser Hogan Gidley said the former senator from Pennsylvania is willing to take the race all the way to the convention.

"If we all go to the convention with a certain amount of delegates, and we have to figure something out at the convention, so be it," Gidley told reporters at the campaign's Super Tuesday party headquarters.

Delegates: Who's got what

Gidley's comments came in response to one of the chief arguments made by Romney's advisers, who predict the former senator will be too far behind in the delegate count to catch up and clinch the nomination after Super Tuesday.

"He's got to get to 1,144, too," Gidley snapped back in a reference to the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination.

"He wants us out because he can't get there," Gidley added, referring to Romney.

In a sign the campaign was lowering expectations for Super Tuesday, Gidley indicated Santorum was comfortable with coming in second in the popular vote in Ohio.

It's unlikely Santorum will win the most delegates in the crucial Super Tuesday battleground. The campaign failed to file the necessary paperwork to pick up delegates in areas of Ohio where Santorum was favored to come out on top.

Gidley shrugged off the mistake, saying Santorum is not the "establishment candidate."

On Wednesday, Santorum is scheduled to move on to the next contests, with stops expected in Kansas, Mississippi and Alabama.

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