Gingrich: A vote for Rick Santorum is a vote for Mitt Romney

Ahead of Monday night's presidential debate, Newt Gingrich seemed eager to put further distance between himself and Rick Santorum, warning that siding with Santorum was a vote for rival Mitt Romney.

It's a marked contrast to his earlier suggestion of a loose alliance between the two and might indicate an attack line that could come up when the five remaining GOP presidential candidates meet for the 9 p.m. debate, hosted by Fox News.

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“If you vote for Sen. Santorum, in effect, you’re functionally voting for Gov. Romney to be the nominee. The only way to stop Mitt Romney, for all practical purposes, is to vote for Newt Gingrich. It’s a fact. It’s a mathematical fact," Gingrich said to reporters after an event in Myrtle Beach, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"Any conservative who votes for anyone but Newt helps elect a moderate as the nominee," Gingrich added.

The former House Speaker went on to criticize Santorum's defeat in 2006 to Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, in which the incumbent earned just over 41 percent of the vote and lost by more than 700,000 votes.

"Evangelical voters would like to have a nominee that will win a general election, and somebody who set the all-time Pennsylvania record for the size of their defeat has a harder case to make as to why they could be elected," Gingrich said.

He went on to hammer Romney on the issue of electability, which most polls show as the primary reason that Republicans have backed the former Massachusetts governor. But Gingrich argued that Romney was unable to beat Arizona Sen. John McCain in the 2008 election.

"Ask yourself this simple question: Why would you want to nominate the guy who lost to the guy who lost to Obama?" Gingrich said, according to CNN.

That line inspired some Romney backers to point out that conservative icon Ronald Reagan had lost an early primary battle to Gerald Ford, who eventually lost the 1976 presidential election to Jimmy Carter. But Gingrich also argued that Romney's sense of inevitability came from fundraising prowess, a strategy that could backfire in a general election.

"The only reason he is electable right now is because he has raised more money from Wall Street to buy more ads than anybody else in the race, and we're not going to win that game," Gingrich said. "If you count how much money you can raise as the number one test of electability, Obama's going to drown him."

Gingrich also maintained that he would have the best chance of rallying a conservative base around his candidacy.

"If you're a conservative, just look at the polls. I am the only candidate capable of stopping a moderate from winning the nomination," said Gingrich.

Despite once leading in the polls, Gingrich has struggled to regain his footing in the GOP primary after a disappointing fourth-place finish in both the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.