WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney said Wednesday he's "prepared to fight all the way" to become the Republican presidential nominee after boosting his delegate count on the biggest night of the primary season. Supporters of his chief rival, Rick Santorum, tried to elbow Newt Gingrich out of the race in an effort to give conservatives a clear alternative to the GOP front-runner.
Gingrich, who won only his home state of Georgia in Tuesday's balloting across 10 states, said he's pressing ahead and will "wait and see how the race goes." He headed for Alabama and Mississippi, hoping to pick up more southern delegates next week.
Super Tuesday gave Romney a narrow victory in pivotal Ohio and wins in five other states, while Santorum laid claim to three states. Rep. Ron Paul won none. The split decision refreshed questions about Romney's appeal to conservatives, and guaranteed more convulsion ahead as Republicans struggle to settle on a candidate to take on President Barack Obama.
Leaders of a super political action committee supporting Santorum said it's time for Gingrich to step aside and let Santorum go head-to-head with Romney.
If Gingrich remains in the race "it's only a hindrance to a conservative alternative to Romney," said Stuart Roy, an adviser to the Red, White and Blue Fund. "And Romney simply won't be the conservative alternative to Obama."
The PAC has spent about $3 million on TV ads helping Santorum's White House bid, and Roy predicted that Wednesday would be "a good day for fundraising."
Santorum, who was campaigning Wednesday in Kansas and Mississippi, pointed to his wins in the West, the Midwest and the South as proof he can win across this country.
Romney, in an appearance on CNBC's "Squawk Box," insisted he's "getting the kind of support across the party that I need to become the nominee."
"We've got the time and the resources and a plan to get all the delegates, and we think that will get done before the convention," Romney said.
His campaign announced that Romney raised $11.5 million in February, the second-best month ever for the campaign. Still, that's not substantially ahead of Santorum, who raised $9 million in February.
Gingrich, in a morning appearance on Bill Bennett's "Morning in America" radio program, said there's no evidence Santorum could defeat Romney even in a one-on-one competition.
"If I thought he was a slam dunk to beat Romney and to beat Obama, I would really consider getting out," Gingrich said. "I don't."
Campaigning in Montgomery, Ala., Gingrich showed he had no intention of bowing out to clear a path for Santorum. He portrayed Romney as a moderate in the mold of losing GOP candidates Bob Dole and John McCain. And he cast Santorum as a creature of Washington, willing to play along with the team.
"There is a big difference between being a good team member and changing the game," Gingrich said. "I am not going to Washington to be a good team member. I'm going to Washington to change Washington."
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said Alabama and Mississippi, which vote on March 13, are must-win states for the former House speaker, although he stopped short of saying Gingrich would get out of the race if he lost there. To that end, Gingrich dropped plans to campaign Friday in Kansas, which holds caucuses Saturday, to focus on the southern states.
Surrogates made the case that it's time to close ranks around Romney.
House Republican Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia argued that Romney's claim to the nomination is inevitable, adding that Santorum and Gingrich "have not demonstrated an ability to do what needs to be done." But in an interview on CBS "This Morning," Cantor acknowledged there is still plenty of debate in "a robust party with many ideas."
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