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Santorum launches second half of campaign in Illinois concession speech

Rick Santorum lost badly to Mitt Romney in Illinois on Tuesday, but used his concession speech to launch the second half of his campaign, reminding voters that the Republican primary was only at its midpoint.

“I grew up in this great state,” Santorum told a crowd in Gettysburg, Pa. “We wanted to come here to Pennsylvania to launch our campaign in Pennsylvania. We’ve got five weeks, five weeks to win and for a big delegate sweep in Pennsylvania.”

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He added, “We’re going to head to Louisiana from here. And we’re feeling very, very good about winning Louisiana on Saturday, by the way.”

Santorum leads Romney by 13 percent heading into Saturday’s contest in Louisiana, according to a Magellan Strategies poll released Tuesday night.

The former Pennsylvania senator has outperformed Romney in Southern states, notching victories in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

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.

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

But on Tuesday night, Santorum pointed to his supporters as evidence that the conservative base remains unwilling to line up behind Romney.

“If you look at what’s going to happen tonight, we’re going to win downstate, we’re going to win central Illinois, we’re going to win western Illinois,” Santorum said. “We won the areas that Republicans and conservatives populate, and we’re happy about that.”

With 83 percent of the precincts reporting, Romney had just 47 percent of the vote to Santorum’s 35 percent. Ron Paul was in third with 9 percent, and Newt Gingrich trailed with 8 percent.

Santorum also directed his fire at Romney over what has been a consistent criticism of the former Massachusetts governor — that he is a flip-flopper and not truly beholden to conservative ideals.

“We need someone who has a strong and clear record that can appeal to voters all across this country, someone who you can trust,” Santorum said. “Someone who you know when they say they’re going to do something, they’re not saying it because it’s the popular theme of the moment, but someone who has a long track record of deep convictions, who is going to stand out there and fight, not just because it’s what the pollsters tell them to say.”