Poll: Santorum ahead in Louisiana

Rick Santorum leads the GOP presidential field by double digits heading into Saturday’s primary in Louisiana, according to a poll released late Tuesday by Magellan Strategies.

Santorum took 37 percent, followed by Mitt Romney at 24 percent, Newt Gingrich at 21 percent and Ron Paul at 3 percent.

The poll was conducted on March 19, before Romney’s convincing victory in the Illinois primary, and has a 2 percent margin of error.

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Gingrich finished a distant fourth in Illinois, and will likely hear growing calls this week for him to end his campaign. One recent Gallup poll found that Gingrich supporters were split evenly between Romney and Santorum for their second choices, but the Magellan poll shows that the former House Speaker’s ongoing candidacy is hurting Santorum, at least in the South.

In a two-man race, Santorum leads Romney by 21 percent in Louisiana, with 61 percent of Gingrich’s support going to Santorum, and only 22 percent going to Romney.

Gingrich has said he will stay in the race until the Republican National Convention, and although his campaign is $1.5 million in debt, his super-PAC received another $5.5 million cash infusion from billionaire investor Sheldon Adelson in late February.

A Santorum victory in Louisiana would return attention to Romney’s inability to connect with the conservative base in the Deep South. The former Pennsylvania senator has outperformed Romney in Southern states, notching victories in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Santorum will need some major upsets outside of those states, where evangelicals and those who identify as strongly conservative have helped buoy his campaign, to keep Romney from securing the nomination before the convention.

About half of the delegates needed to secure the nomination have been awarded so far, and Romney holds a more than 2-to-1 lead.