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Did Santorum lose the GOP civil war at Gettysburg?

By Jim Acosta, CNN National Political Correspondent
updated 10:03 AM EDT, Wed March 21, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Santorum made election night speech from historic town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
  • Fresh line of attacks on Mitt Romney over health care unveiled Tuesday night
  • Santorum blames loss on Romney's 21-1 financial advantage in ads
  • Campaign delegate strategist says plan being developed for brokered convention

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Rick Santorum chose the iconic Civil War town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to watch the primary returns from Illinois as a tribute to Abraham Lincoln.

In his own Gettysburg address to supporters, the Republican contender tried to make the case his battle for the nomination is not lost.

"It's the most important election since the election of 1860," Santorum said in one of his many references to the Civil War.

The former Pennsylvania senator then opened up a barrage of attacks on the winner in Illinois, Mitt Romney.

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"We don't need a manager," Santorum said. "We need someone who's going to pull government up by the roots and throw it out and liberate the private sector to do something in America."

Before his speech, Santorum aides said he plans to mark this week's anniversary of the signing of President Barack Obama's health care law with fresh attacks on Romney. The first shots of that offensive were fired at Gettysburg.

"Obamacare, Romneycare. They're interchangeable," Santorum said.

On climate change, Santorum accused both Romney and Newt Gingrich of flipping on the issue only after jumping into the 2012 campaign.

"When the climate changed, they changed," Santorum added.

Santorum's loss in Illinois is unlikely to silence chatter within the Republican Party that he faces long odds in the hope of winning the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

After his speech, Santorum chalked up his loss in Illinois to Romney's sizable financial advantage, telling CNN he could not afford to match his rival's ad offensive on the state's expensive airwaves.

"When you get outspent 21-1 in Chicago, it's pretty tough," Santorum said to CNN. "I don't think he's going to be able to do 21-1 in many places," Santorum added.

Top Santorum strategist John Brabender said the results in Illinois are more telling about Romney's weaknesses.

"We'll be the first to concede, where there are high concentrations of moderate voters, he'll do very well," Brabender said, referring to Romney's strong turnout in the collar counties surrounding Chicago.

During his speech, Santorum was already looking ahead to Louisiana where he predicted he would do well. A large margin of victory in Louisiana could help to offset Santorum's losses in Illinois.

"Five days to a big win and a big delegate surge," Santorum told the crowd. "I ask each and every one of you to join us, to saddle up."

The math, however, is still not on his side. Estimates from CNN and other news organizations show Santorum has won fewer than half of the delegates earned by Romney. Santorum aides dispute those figures and argue the delegate race is much closer.

Earlier in the day, Santorum's delegate strategist disclosed on a conference call the campaign has had discussions with the candidate's assigned "super-delegates" about the prospect of a contested GOP convention later this summer in Tampa.

"We are talking to them about what the strategy at the national convention will be," Santorum delegate strategist John Yob said on the conference call.

Working the rope line following his speech, Santorum told CNN he still sees a path to the nomination. "Absolutely, absolutely. Long way to go."

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