Vowing to go forward, Republican Rick Santorum cast his disappointing third-place finish in this state’s primary as a hiccup and pledged Saturday to continue with a campaign that he called “wide open.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich claimed the top spot in this state’s first-in-the-South primary and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney claimed second. Undeterred, Santorum did not acknowledge the deficits he faces — chiefly money and momentum — and insisted he would press forward with a campaign that increasingly looked to be on its last legs.

“Let me assure you we will go to Florida and we will go to Arizona,” he said before supporters interrupted him with cheers of “We pick Rick.”

“I ask you: it’s a wide-open race. Join the fight,” he urged them at an election night rally at the Citadel.

Santorum eked out a narrow win in lead-off Iowa but lost in a blow-out to Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. Santorum had cast South Carolina as a place where he could start a well-financed, traditional campaign, yet he came up well short to Gingrich.

“Three states. Three different winners. What a great country,” Santorum said.

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