On Friday, the Republican presidential race shrank to the size of a hotel ballroom. Three top contenders made pitches to conservative activists gathered in Washington — each man hoping that a speech could unite a movement that months of campaigning had not.

It couldn’t. But each candidate received loud ovations as he battled for the energized core of the Republican electorate.

Former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) stressed his ideological purity. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) stressed his courage, casting himself as an angry outsider, beset by both Democrats and his own party’s establishment.

And former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney — the hobbled front-runner, still struggling to stop conservatives from turning to the other two — talked about his experience.

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