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Caliendo: Romney Remains Frontrunner Despite Santorum Victories

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Rick Santorum

Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum addresses supporters after winning the both Alabama and Mississippi primaries on March 13, 2012 in Lafayette, Louisiana. Louisiana’s primary will be decided on March 24th. (Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Rick Santorum boldly declared Tuesday night that he would win the Republican presidential primary before the convention, but mathematically, Mitt Romney remains the frontrunner, political analyst Stephen Caliendo says.

CBS News reports Santorum earned 35 percent of support in Alabama, followed by about 29 percent for Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney – with Gingrich coming out slightly ahead. Santorum won 33 percent in Mississippi, followed by 31 percent for Gingrich and 30 percent for Romney.

“It’s important for him to get both of those southern states; no expectations for him to get Hawaii, so that went as planned, but Newt Gingrich a strong second place – that’s not good news for Rick Santorum, because it’s going to be harder for him to convince Gingrich to drop out,” Caliendo said.

But Santorum’s bold statement about easily taking the entire primary may be off-base, Caliendo says.

“(Romney is) still ahead. He’s still the frontrunner. Mathematically speaking, he’s still in charge,” Caliendo said. “Rick Santorum said something interesting last night – he said, ‘We’re going to win this before the convention.’ I’m a little worried about his math. It’s not impossible, but that would be very difficult. It was a very bold statement. If it was a toss-away line for supporters, that’s sort of fine. But I mean, I think that if he has a chance, it’s going to be getting to the convention.”

Meanwhile, despite pressure from Santorum, Gingrich says he will be staying in the race. That isn’t necessarily bad news for everyone, Caliendo says.

“I do think that it sort of keeps the field a little more open, and that’s hard for Rick Santorum,” Caliendo said. “I think that Mitt Romney loves the fact that Newt Gingrich is staying in, because Mitt Romney, then, has a better chance of winning these states, as long as that sort of right wing conservative vote continues to be split between those two candidates.”

The Illinois primary is coming up on Tuesday, and voter turnout likely won’t be tremendously high. But some Democratic voters might elect to pull Republican ballots just to participate, Caliendo said.

“(Turnout) might be a little bit higher as a result of what happened last night, in fact, because Illinois allows folks to vote irrespective of what their party is, and so Democrats can pull Republican ballots if they wish to. They have to publicly declare so at the voting booth,” Caliendo said. “But there’s no Democratic primaries to speak of, and so I don’t expect a lot of Democrats will come out. But those who do might vote in the Republican primary, and that will be interesting.”

As Tuesday approaches, we can expect to be swarmed with campaign commercials. Romney will likely command the most airtime, as he has the most money, but ads by third party SuperPACs will be abundant too, Caliendo said.

“Pay attention to who’s sponsoring the ads,” he said. “Look for those tag lines at the end and see if the candidate says, ‘I endorse this message.’”

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