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The Brief: March 14, 2012

Call it more wishful thinking, but last night's election results in Alabama and Mississippi have nudged Texas closer to the electoral spotlight.

Rick Santorum walking onstage at the CNN debate in Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 19, 2012.

The Big Conversation:

Call it more wishful thinking, but last night's election results in Alabama and Mississippi have nudged Texas closer to the electoral spotlight.

Rick Santorum won both Southern primaries on Tuesday, emboldening his effort to portray himself as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney — who finished a disappointing third in both states — as the race moves on to a numbers game with the candidates battling state by state for delegates.

As with Super Tuesday last week, Romney performed moderately well overall, placing within a few points of Santorum and Newt Gingrich in the two Southern states and winning the caucuses in Hawaii and American Samoa.

But Santorum's victory — he pulled 35 percent in Alabama and 33 percent in Mississippi — again underscored the challenges Romney faces among conservatives, especially those in the South, and evangelical Christians, who dominated the vote in both states.

Romney downplayed the results, forgoing an election night speech and instead issuing a press release saying, "With the delegates won tonight, we are even closer to the nomination." But as The New York Times notes, Romney aides admit that he is unlikely to reach 1,144 delegates — the number a candidate needs to claim the nomination — in the next two months.

And that means Texas, which votes May 29, now stands a decent chance at playing a role in the nomination process. And those odds improve if Santorum fares well in the Missouri caucuses on Saturday, the Illinois primary on Tuesday and the Louisiana primary on March 24.

The calendar bodes better for Romney in April, with several states in the Northeast — Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island — scheduled to vote on the 24th. A clean sweep there by Romney would hurt Santorum — and Texas' shot at having a say in the process.

Culled:

  • Ron Paul struggled in Tuesday's Southern primaries, placing a distant fourth in Alabama and Mississippi. But the congressman, who has vowed to stay in the race, fared slightly better in the Hawaii caucuses, placing third and receiving 18 percent of the vote. Paul has yet to win a contest.
  • The Houston Chronicle reports that the Food and Drug Administration has received a complaint about Celltex Therapeutics Corp., the company involved in the adult stem cell procedure that Gov. Rick Perry received on his back in July. The complaint alleges that Celltex, which stores patients' stem cells for future reinjection, is a danger to patients. "It appears their business plan involves injecting or infusing on a for-profit, commercial basis non-FDA-approved adult stem cells into paying customers," a bioethicist at the University of Minnesota wrote in a letter to the FDA. "This plan conflicts with FDA regulations governing human stem cells."
  • The David Dewhurst campaign tells The Dallas Morning News that the lieutenant governor may only make one more appearance with his Republican rivals — at a debate in Dallas next month — before the May 29 primary. Dewhurst, the front-runner in the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, has taken flak from his Republican opponents before for skipping candidate forums, but Dewhurst's campaign has defended his schedule. “Look, he’s traveled all across Texas and reached out to every group,” said Dewhurst spokesman Matt Hirsch. “He’s the only candidate in the race who’s taken conservative ideas and turned them into actual policies — and he’ll continue to … spread that message.”

"The governor wouldn't have called on him to do so if the money was not there."Rick Perry spokesman Catherine Frazier to the Tribune on doubts that the state's health commissioner will find state funding for the Women's Health Program, which has lost its federal financing in light of a fight over Planned Parenthood

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