US & Canada

Republican contest: Rick Santorum wins Louisiana poll

Rick Santorum has scored a convincing victory in the Republican presidential primary in Louisiana.

With 100% of precincts counted in the southern US state, the ex-Pennsylvania senator secured 49%, well ahead of the front-runner Mitt Romney, who had 27%.

Mr Santorum is seeking to close the gap on the ex-Massachusetts governor to become the party's nominee to challenge Barack Obama in November's election.

Mr Romney has now won 21 out of 34 contests to Mr Santorum's 11.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trailed in Lousiana's poll in third place with 16%, ahead of Texan Ron Paul with 6%. Mr Paul has yet to win a poll.

"We're still here. We're still fighting. We still believe, as this race really shows," Mr Santorum said in Wisconsin, where he watched the election results.

He enjoys strong support among conservatives in the south, and he has also picked up backing from Republicans who have peeled away from Mr Gingrich as he lost momentum.

However, Mr Romney is widely tipped to regain the advantage when the race moves on in April to Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington DC.

He also received a boost earlier this week when he secured the endorsement of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Mr Bushcalled on Republicansto "unite" behind the Romney campaign.

Correspondents say the backing of the respected Republican suggests the party establishment could be coalescing around Mr Romney.

In another boost, FreedomWorks, an organisation that supports the Tea Party movement, dropped its opposition to Mr Romney's candidacy.

Mr Romney has so far won 563 delegates and Mr Santorum's 263, according to an estimate by the Associated Press news agency.

Louisiana's primary allocated 20 of the state's 46 total delegates; the rest will be decided at the state party convention in June.

A candidate needs to accumulate 1,144 delegates to the August convention in order to secure the Republican nomination.