Republican Rick Santorum's position as Mitt Romney's chief challenger is intact.
After four straight losses to Romney, the former Pennsylvania senator came back by winning at least three states _ Oklahoma, North Dakota and Tennessee _ on Super Tuesday. But in the main race of the night, he narrowly lost to Romney in Ohio and missed a chance to reset the race overall.
"This was a big night tonight," Santorum told cheering supporters at a local high school before the Ohio results were known. "We have won in the West, the Midwest and the South, and we're ready to win across this country."
Santorum's three victories came as 10 states held elections from Alaska to Vermont. Romney was coming off a four-state win streak when he won in Massachusetts, Vermont, Idaho, Virginia and Ohio.
Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia.
Santorum's victories in two southern states seemed to be enough to fuel his underdog campaign, despite increasingly calls for the candidates to rally around front-runner Romney.
"Tonight it's clear. It's clear. We've won races all over this country against the odds," Santorum said. "When they thought, `Oh, OK, he's finally finished,' we keep coming back. We are in this thing."
An unapologetic social conservative, Santorum has cast the race in biblical terms: He's David vs. Romney's Goliath. Even that "is probably a little bit of an understatement," Santorum said Monday.
The former senator from neighboring Pennsylvania had a shell of a campaign in Ohio, with no state headquarters and a bare-bones staff. In Romney he faced a challenger who enjoys a massive cash advantage and a political machine that's produced high-stakes victories in other states when his front-runner status was in doubt.
Santorum celebrated in Steubenville, an eastern Ohio town just a 90-minute drive from his own Pennsylvania hometown.
Earlier in the day, he delivered an in-person address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference in Washington. He immediately criticized Tuesday's offer by the U.S., European countries, Russia and China to resume talks with Iran on its suspected nuclear weapons program, calling it "another appeasement, another delay, another opportunity for them to go forward while we talk."
Speaking Tuesday night with his 93-year-old mother at his side, Santorum largely set aside his aggressive social agenda and focused instead on his family's blue-collar roots.
"Not too many presidential candidates come to Steubenville, Ohio, much less hold their victory party in Steubenville, Ohio," he said. "This is our roots."
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