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Santorum's Ala. delegates will unite with nominee

Phillip Rawls

Rick Santorum, the winner of Alabama's Republican presidential primary, hasn't released his 22 Alabama delegates to support another candidate, but delegates said they expect to unite behind Mitt Romney if he locks up the GOP nomination.

They said they won't get divided and lose sight of their goal of beating Democratic President Barack Obama in November.

"The most important thing is removing Barack Obama from the White House, no matter who the nominee is," said delegate Kenny Dean of Birmingham, who served as Santorum's grass-roots coordinator in Alabama.

Santorum won Alabama's GOP primary March 13, picking up 22 delegates, compared with 13 for Newt Gingrich and 12 for Romney.

Even though Santorum has suspended his campaign, the rules of the Alabama Republican Party bind his delegates to him until he releases them.

Dean participated in a conference call with Santorum on Monday, during which the former Pennsylvania senator told delegates he has no immediate plans to release them. Dean said Santorum is hanging on to the delegates for now to make sure conservative principles play an important role at the Republican National Convention in late August.

Delegate Elbert Peters of Huntsville, who's a former chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, expects Santorum's delegates to unite behind Romney if he locks up the nomination. "There is a lot of interest in beating Obama, and if he's our nominee, he will be our option," Peters said.

Delegate Tom Powers of Clanton said that if Romney gets the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination before the August convention, he expects Santorum to release his Alabama delegates and encourage everyone to give Romney a 100 percent vote in Tampa, Fla.

Delegate Tripp Skipper of Anniston, an aide to Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, said that even though Santorum was his first choice, Romney appears to be the presumptive nominee.

"I'd much rather have Governor Romney as president than President Obama," Skipper said.

State Party Chairman Bill Armistead said it was obvious that Romney would win the nomination. He said some of Santorum's supporters in Alabama are already helping Romney's campaign, and he expects more to come on board.

Gingrich is still seeking the nomination and has his 13 Alabama delegates. Armistead said he hopes Gingrich won't become divisive because "there is no path to victory for him to get the nomination."

The Associated Press