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Rick Santorum Campaign Thinks Newt Gingrich Should 'Move Aside'

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As election results rolled in Tuesday night at Rick Santorum's rally in Steubenville, Ohio, top adviser John Brabender told The Huffington Post that if former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) had a subpar night, he should drop out.

"If he finishes third in all the southern states except Georgia, the path is for him to move aside and let us have a one-on-one shot with Romney. That's the path," Brabender said.

That is, in fact, what happened. Gingrich won Georgia convincingly, but the state was essentially uncontested by former Sen. Santorum (R-Pa.) and Mitt Romney.

Elsewhere in the South, Gingrich finished third in Tennessee and third in Oklahoma. He lagged far behind Romney and Santorum in every one of the other seven contests. Gingrich actually finished fourth behind Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) in North Dakota, Vermont, Massachusetts, Alaska and Idaho.

Wednesday morning, a super PAC supporting Santorum, the Red White and Blue Fund, called for Gingrich to drop out.

“Based on his electoral performance last night and his out-of-step record it is time for Newt Gingrich to exit the Republican nominating process,” said Stuart Roy, an adviser to the group, in a press release.

“With Gingrich exiting the race it would be a true head-to-head race and conservatives would be able to make a choice between a consistent conservative in Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney," Roy wrote. "For instance, with Gingrich out of the race Santorum would have won both Ohio and Michigan. Newt has become a hindrance to a conservative alternative.”

Brabender told HuffPost Tuesday night that Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, has worked intentionally to keep all three of his rivals in the primary, to play them off of one another.

"We have not been shy about saying that if we can get a one-on-one shot with Romney, everything changes overnight. And that's their worst fear," Brabender said. "If you watch their strategy, they're very good at trying to keep everybody in the race."

Later in the night, Brabender called on the GOP's conservative base to "rally" around Santorum.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Santorum supporter, said that "it's pretty clear it's a two-man race."

"It's interesting to have Newt in," DeWine said. "Anybody who's voting for Newt now has got to look at that and say, 'Which of these two do I really want?' And I think most of Newt's votes would go to Santorum."

If Santorum had received Gingrich's 14.6 percent in Ohio, that would have put Santorum at 51.6 percent to Romney's 38 percent. In Tennessee and Oklahoma, where Santorum won, his margin of victory would have been much higher if Gingrich were not in the race and Gingrich voters went en masse to Santorum.

Tennessee would have been a landslide. Santorum beat Romney 37.3 percent to 28 percent, but with Gingrich's 24 percent Santorum would have had a majority at 61.3 percent.

In Oklahoma, Santorum's 33.8 percent winning plurality -- beating out Romney's 28 percent -- would have been the exact same number as in Tennessee if he had Gingrich's vote: 61.3 percent.

Gingrich, however, showed no signs Tuesday night of dropping out. So while Romney has been unable to get close to 50 percent support in most primaries, as long as Santorum and Gingrich continue to cancel each other out, he is positioned to grind out a victory and clinch the nomination at some point this spring or summer.

This story has been updated to reflect calls from the Red White and Blue Fund for Newt Gingrich to drop out of the race.

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