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Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum campaigns at a Des Moines Christian school assembly in Urbandale, Iowa, Jan. 3, 2012. (JOHN GRESS/JOHN GRESS/REUTERS)
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum campaigns at a Des Moines Christian school assembly in Urbandale, Iowa, Jan. 3, 2012. (JOHN GRESS/JOHN GRESS/REUTERS)

Ditching Florida, Santorum and Paul eye smaller states in GOP race Add to ...

With the Florida Republican primary turning into a two-man slugfest between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, it’s easy to forget there are still other candidates on the ballot.

But Florida Republicans hoping to catch a glimpse of Rick Santorum or Ron Paul in the flesh have been disappointed. Both men have been scarcely seen in Florida in recent days. And on the eve of Tuesday’s primary, they are nowhere near the Sunshine State.

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Mr. Paul, the Texas libertarian congressman who has caught fire among anti-war youth and anti-government malcontents, spent the weekend in Maine and had no scheduled campaign events in Florida on Monday or Tuesday.

Mr. Santorum, the ex-Pennsylvania senator who attended to a sick daughter on the weekend, was set to return to the campaign trail on Monday – in Missouri and Minnesota. On Tuesday, he is set to campaign in Nevada and Colorado.

Their schedules show how new rules set by the Republican National Committee (RNC) and GOP officials in each state have made it possible for second-tier candidates to nourish hopes of staying in the race well beyond the early primary states.

Combined with Mr. Gingrich’s vow to go all the way to the August convention, the strategies of Mr. Santorum and Mr. Paul mean that Mr. Romney could face a long slog to the nomination even if he wins Florida handily on Tuesday.

(Three polls out Monday morning showed Mr. Romney with about 40 per cent support and a five- to 14-percentage point lead over Mr. Gingrich. Mr. Santorum and Mr. Paul were struggling to break into double digits.) To win the GOP nomination, Mr. Romney needs to amass 1,144 delegates. So far, he has only 31.

Under new RNC rules, states holding primaries or caucuses before April are supposed to award delegates on a proportional basis. But the Florida GOP has designated its primary a winner-take-all vote, awarding all 50 delegates to the victor in Tuesday’s contest.

That is not the end of the story, however, as the RNC could penalize Florida for snubbing its nose at the rules and cut its delegate count in half.

Mr. Santorum and Mr. Paul are pinning their hopes on picking up support in smaller states that hold caucuses and award delegates proportionally. That plays to their strengths of retail politics and grassroots mobilization and, in Mr. Santorum’s case, his shoestring campaign budget.

Mr. Santorum was set to be in Minnesota Monday afternoon. The state holds its caucuses on Feb. 7, when 40 delegates are up for grabs. He is also set to campaign in Missouri, which holds its primary Feb. 7, though it still remains unclear whether that vote, or later caucuses, will determine how candidates divvy up the state’s 52 delegates.

Nevada and Colorado, where Mr. Santorum is set to campaign on Tuesday, hold their caucuses on Feb. 4 and Feb. 7, respectively. A total of 94 delegates are up for grabs.

Most of Maine’s caucuses are held on a staggered basis in the state’s 97 municipalities between Feb. 4 and Feb. 11, when 24 delegates will be awarded.

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