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Santorum, top conservatives meet

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum met privately with conservative leaders Thursday to craft plans to try to stop Mitt Romney's march to the nomination. Pressuring rival Newt Gingrich to leave the race was part of their overall strategy.

The northern Virginia meeting included a host of fiscal and social conservatives who have long doubted Romney's conservative credentials.

"Like halftime at a football game, you go into the locker room to gauge what has been working and what hasn't," meeting participant Richard A. Viguerie, chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, said in a statement. "The Santorum campaign team recognizes that, because of Mitt Romney's money advantage and his support from the Republican establishment and the mainstream media, Rick has, to some extent, lost control of narrative in the campaign."

Among other topics, according to Viguerie, the participants discussed their perception that "delegate counts being published by the Romney campaign and the media are simply inaccurate." The group decided to apply more pressure on Gingrich to quit, which they see as allowing divided conservatives to unite behind Santorum, according to an official close to the campaign.

The effort may be too late. Romney has twice as many delegates as Santorum, according to the Associated Press count, and is on track to having a majority of delegates in June. Gingrich has ignored calls to leave the race for weeks and shows no sign of bowing out even after scaling back his campaign.

The private meeting came as Romney's supporters, including high-profile conservatives from across the country, intensified pressure on Santorum to leave the race to allow Romney to focus on a general election campaign against President Obama.

Santorum's strategy depends on winning Pennsylvania's primary April 24 and finding success in a series of May contests. But he would need 80 percent of the remaining delegates to win the nomination before the party's national convention in August. That won't happen as long as Romney stays in the race because most upcoming primaries use some type of proportional system to award delegates, making it hard to win large numbers of delegates in individual states.