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Santorum: Gingrich blew chance to be the conservative alternative to Romney

Rick Santorum argued that Newt Gingrich's second-place finish in Florida's presidential primary would pave the way for his emergence as the conservative alternative to front-runner Mitt Romney.

"People are starting to realize now as they see the results in Florida that Newt Gingrich had his chance, had his shot, you know, Newt Gingrich has a big boost out of South Carolina and couldn't hold it, couldn't deliver in Florida. I think they're going to be looking for a different conservative as an alternative to Mitt Romney," Santorum said on CNN.

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The former Pennsylvania senator downplayed his third-place finish, saying his campaign made a calculated decision to skip the expensive state.

"We realized, in a winner-take-all race like Florida where millions of dollars were going to be spent, we were not in the position to compete on a financial basis at this point," Santorum said.

"This is a long race, and today we've raised over $200,000 online. I think people realize it's the time to coalesce," he added later.

But Santorum argued that his prospects were looking up after a strong fundraising month in January. His campaign revealed earlier in the day that it had brought in $4.5 million in January and had more than $1 million on hand.

"I feel very good that people are now looking and saying there really is one electable conservative in the race," Santorum said.

Some of Santorum's confidence is evident in a new ad that began airing in Colorado and Nevada knocking Gingrich as a liberal on par with President Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). But Santorum said his campaign was not engaging in Romney and Gingrich-style "personal attacks."

"People are tired of all these personal attacks on how someone made money ... people don't care about that," Santorum said. "What they care about is what you're going to do to affect their lives and the size and scale of government."

Santorum reiterated a call for an issues-based discussion in remarks to supporters later in the evening.

"Republicans can do better than the discussion and dialogue and the accusations that were going on in the state of Florida, and really this campaign went downhill," Santorum said. "We're going to have differences on the issues and we need to talk about those differences on the issues, but what we saw in the last few weeks is not something that is going to help us win this election."

Santorum also promised to turn his sights on Romney, pledging a Wednesday address "on RomneyCare and ObamaCare."

"We need someone who can draw that contrast. We need someone who can be a conservative nominee," Santorum said.

But Santorum also looked to position himself as the alternative around which strong conservatives would coalesce, underscoring his argument that Republicans should be wary of Gingrich.

"We cannot allow our nominee to be the issue in this campaign," Santorum said.

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