Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pennsylvania Primary

Why Santorum Won’t Drop Out Now

Rick Santorum celebrated Easter and spent time with his family this weekend. He’ll spend Monday with his hospitalized 3-year-old daughter Bella whose fight for life has been an inspiring and sympathetic parallel journey to his campaign since its inception. All of this, along with the fact that there has been no major ad buys in the upcoming primary state of Pennsylvania, is fueling speculation that Santorum is considering pulling out. Given that he has virtually no chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination and stands to suffer a terrible humiliation if, as is entirely possible, he loses his home state primary later this month, there are good reasons why Santorum should do just that. But the betting here right now is that he won’t.

Though a veteran and in many ways a highly practical politician, Santorum has a vision of his career and his party that has never exactly conformed to what other people thought he should do. While this might be the right moment to cash in his chips after a remarkable primary run that brought him more success than anyone outside his inner circle thought possible, the thinking here is that he has gone too far to pull out now when he still thinks he could win at home and then do some more damage in the May primaries. Even more to the point, he may have come to the conclusion that being a “team player” and standing aside for frontrunner Mitt Romney will not materially aid the party or his long-range plans.

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Rick Santorum celebrated Easter and spent time with his family this weekend. He’ll spend Monday with his hospitalized 3-year-old daughter Bella whose fight for life has been an inspiring and sympathetic parallel journey to his campaign since its inception. All of this, along with the fact that there has been no major ad buys in the upcoming primary state of Pennsylvania, is fueling speculation that Santorum is considering pulling out. Given that he has virtually no chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination and stands to suffer a terrible humiliation if, as is entirely possible, he loses his home state primary later this month, there are good reasons why Santorum should do just that. But the betting here right now is that he won’t.

Though a veteran and in many ways a highly practical politician, Santorum has a vision of his career and his party that has never exactly conformed to what other people thought he should do. While this might be the right moment to cash in his chips after a remarkable primary run that brought him more success than anyone outside his inner circle thought possible, the thinking here is that he has gone too far to pull out now when he still thinks he could win at home and then do some more damage in the May primaries. Even more to the point, he may have come to the conclusion that being a “team player” and standing aside for frontrunner Mitt Romney will not materially aid the party or his long-range plans.

As Santorum made clear in his speech last week after losing the Wisconsin, Maryland and District of Columbia primaries, he views himself in the role that Ronald Reagan played in 1976 when the future president carried his challenge to incumbent president Gerald Ford all the way to the Republican convention that year. Unlike Reagan, who was locked in a virtual dead heat with Ford, Santorum is far behind in the delegate count. But he has been speaking as if he saw Romney as a certain loser in November, which would give him the same opportunity to pick up the pieces of a defeated party and lead it to victory the next time around as Reagan did in 1980. In that scenario, which envisions his name as being at the top of the list of 2016 contenders next January, there is no advantage to dropping out and acknowledging Romney as the nominee now.

There are those who consider this plan delusional. As some of the pundits said on yesterday’s Fox News Sunday panel, in the event Romney loses this year, Santorum would face some formidable competition in 2016 from the young GOP stars such as Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal, all of whom didn’t run this year. Most of the pundits think he won’t have a chance then, but Santorum has never been one to take their advice. Santorum’s 11 primary and caucus wins may have been a fluke created by some unique circumstances such as the failure of any conservative challenger to emerge, but social conservatives and others on the right are not any more likely to listen to the party’s so-called establishment in 2016 than they were this year. If another moderate Republican nominee goes down to Obama, conservatives are going to spend the next four years vowing not to let it happen again, and Santorum will have a leg up with them even if it is hard to imagine him ever winning the nomination if a genuine and viable conservative alternative steps forward.

Of course, this scenario will take a major hit if he loses Pennsylvania on April 24, because it will invoke the memory of his 2006 landslide defeat for re-election to the Senate, an event that many thought ended Santorum’s career and presidential hopes. Romney will invest the time and resources there and much of the state party apparatus will be backing him against Santorum. But dropping out now with just two weeks to go before the opportunity to win his home state will be just as humiliating as actually getting beaten at the polls. If he wants to run again, and I believe he does, there is no alternative but to stay in until he is mathematically eliminated.

Doing so is not so much a matter of strategic calculation as it is a reflection of the man’s character. If he were the sort of person who made political decisions based on a careful evaluation of the odds, he wouldn’t have tilted so far to the right during his second term in the Senate. Nor would he have run for re-election in 2006 or bothered to try for the presidency this year. He ran because he believed in himself and his message even if few others shared his view. He still does, perhaps more than ever after the last few months of unexpected triumphs.

The gap between Santorum’s vision of what his party should be doing and the reality of Romney being the inevitable nominee is considerable, but I don’t believe it will persuade him to drop out before facing the verdict of Pennsylvania Republicans. He may go down in flames again, but he is a true believer who won’t give up until he is forced to do so.

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Romney Takes the Lead in Pennsylvania

Rick Santorum has bet his political future on winning the Republican presidential primary in his home state of Pennsylvania this month but according to the latest polling, he’s about to lose that wager. Public Policy Polling’s new survey shows Mitt Romney taking the lead in Pennsylvania for the first time, with a 42-37-percentage point advantage. Santorum’s level of support in Pennsylvania has been declining in recent weeks as polls conducted by Franklin & Marshall College and Quinnipiac University in the last week both showed the large leads he had earlier this year shrinking dramatically. But in the wake of Romney’s wins in three states on Tuesday, voters polled yesterday by PPP appear to be coming to the conclusion that with the general election fight against President Obama about to commence, Santorum’s continuing insurgency is undermining the GOP’s hopes of victory in the fall.

The polling, which showed Romney making up ground with every demographic where he has had trouble throughout the race — evangelicals, Tea Partiers and very conservative voters — demonstrates the fact that growing numbers of even those Republicans who were unsympathetic to the frontrunner are starting to make their peace with his inevitability. And with President Obama already beginning to launch attacks on him, the impulse to close ranks behind their eventual standard-bearer is overcoming home state loyalty to Santorum.

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Rick Santorum has bet his political future on winning the Republican presidential primary in his home state of Pennsylvania this month but according to the latest polling, he’s about to lose that wager. Public Policy Polling’s new survey shows Mitt Romney taking the lead in Pennsylvania for the first time, with a 42-37-percentage point advantage. Santorum’s level of support in Pennsylvania has been declining in recent weeks as polls conducted by Franklin & Marshall College and Quinnipiac University in the last week both showed the large leads he had earlier this year shrinking dramatically. But in the wake of Romney’s wins in three states on Tuesday, voters polled yesterday by PPP appear to be coming to the conclusion that with the general election fight against President Obama about to commence, Santorum’s continuing insurgency is undermining the GOP’s hopes of victory in the fall.

The polling, which showed Romney making up ground with every demographic where he has had trouble throughout the race — evangelicals, Tea Partiers and very conservative voters — demonstrates the fact that growing numbers of even those Republicans who were unsympathetic to the frontrunner are starting to make their peace with his inevitability. And with President Obama already beginning to launch attacks on him, the impulse to close ranks behind their eventual standard-bearer is overcoming home state loyalty to Santorum.

Santorum’s problems in Pennsylvania are actually pretty similar to ones he’s encountered elsewhere. Only about a third of those polled think Santorum actually has a chance to win the nomination and less than a quarter believe he gives his party the best chance to beat Obama. The delegate math and the difficulty in believing that Santorum has any hope of winning in the fall provide the only explanations for the dramatic turnaround in the state in the last month as Santorum lost six points and Romney gained 17 as the outline of the race solidified.

With 19 days left until Pennsylvanians vote that leaves plenty of time for the lead to change again, so expect Santorum to double down on the harsh attacks on Romney as indistinguishable from the president. The former senator has been sending clear signals in recent days that he has little interest in being a team player for the GOP and winding down his insurgency. Indeed, his speech on Tuesday night in Pennsylvania — during which he never mentioned the fact that he had lost three primaries that day — seemed to indicate that his model was Ronald Reagan’s 1976 challenge to Gerald Ford and that his ultimate goal was to pick up the pieces of the party after Romney lost in November. The notion of redeeming a fallen GOP as Reagan did before he won the presidency in 1980 appeals to both Santorum’s vanity and his conviction that Romney is unworthy of his party’s nomination.

But that scenario will be impossible if Santorum can’t win in his home state. The idea that he can successfully carry his revolt into southern states in May after getting overthrown in Pennsylvania is fanciful. Just as Pennsylvanians are coming around to understanding that prolonging the race is a gift to Obama, conservatives elsewhere are also coming to that conclusion.

Though President Obama and the Democrats are hopeful that Santorum will keep pouring on the vitriol and make Romney’s life miserable all the way to the Republican National Convention in Tampa at the end of the summer, GOP voters realize that isn’t in their interests. That means that while the next three weeks will be very nasty indeed, there is now a better than even chance that Romney will score a knockout blow that will finally end the Republican contest.

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Santorum May Win PA, But Lose Delegates

It looks like Rick Santorum is committed to a slow death crawl to the Pennsylvania primary, but even if he manages to maintain his modest lead in the polls and pull off a victory, it could be meaningless in terms of his delegate count. The Huffington Post reports the delegates aren’t required to support any candidate, and there are signs Mitt Romney may be further ahead in collecting potential delegate support in Rick Santorum’s home state:

Bob Asher, as one of the state’s national committee members, is one of three Pennsylvania super delegates. He’s also a Romney supporter. Asher told the Morning Call that, “Based upon what I have heard, I think Gov. Romney will likely win the majority of the delegates in Pennsylvania.”

The Romney campaign declined to release a list of delegates in Pennsylvania who they believe will support the former governor, but Reps. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) are both running to be national convention delegates, and both have come out in support of Romney. …

Campaign organization once again comes into play in these states with unbound delegates. Romney started collecting delegates in Pennsylvania back in 2011 when Santorum had a far smaller campaign, according to the Morning Call.

Santorum supporter State Sen. Jake Corman (R-34) said the Santorum campaign did court potential delegates to get them to commit to the former Pennsylvania senator.

“The problem is, when you’re running a low-budget campaign, you have to focus on the states in front of you, not 20 states in front of you,” Corman told Morning Call.

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It looks like Rick Santorum is committed to a slow death crawl to the Pennsylvania primary, but even if he manages to maintain his modest lead in the polls and pull off a victory, it could be meaningless in terms of his delegate count. The Huffington Post reports the delegates aren’t required to support any candidate, and there are signs Mitt Romney may be further ahead in collecting potential delegate support in Rick Santorum’s home state:

Bob Asher, as one of the state’s national committee members, is one of three Pennsylvania super delegates. He’s also a Romney supporter. Asher told the Morning Call that, “Based upon what I have heard, I think Gov. Romney will likely win the majority of the delegates in Pennsylvania.”

The Romney campaign declined to release a list of delegates in Pennsylvania who they believe will support the former governor, but Reps. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) are both running to be national convention delegates, and both have come out in support of Romney. …

Campaign organization once again comes into play in these states with unbound delegates. Romney started collecting delegates in Pennsylvania back in 2011 when Santorum had a far smaller campaign, according to the Morning Call.

Santorum supporter State Sen. Jake Corman (R-34) said the Santorum campaign did court potential delegates to get them to commit to the former Pennsylvania senator.

“The problem is, when you’re running a low-budget campaign, you have to focus on the states in front of you, not 20 states in front of you,” Corman told Morning Call.

The Morning Call has more on Santorum’s alleged lack of organization in the state, where ground game is crucial becausedelegates are elected on the day of the primary. In a sense, candidates have to run a dual-campaign in the state, with one part focused on typical get out the vote activity and the other focused on winning support from potential delegates.

One Pennsylvania Republican operative who asked for anonymity said Romney and Ron Paul were the most organized in rallying delegates. “I’ll be perfectly honest with you,” the person said. “The Santorum campaign wasn’t involved in the delegate process whatsoever.”

G. Terry Madonna, a veteran political analyst at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, said Santorum and his campaign will attempt to spin it that, as in other states, he’s the grassroots guy the establishment is trying to stop. But in Pennsylvania, it’s a harder sell because for a long time Santorum was a leader in the state Republican Party.

“If in fact he does not win the lion’s share of delegates, it continues to show their lack of resources to organize, but you would think in Pennsylvania he wouldn’t need a lot of resources, that he would have support in county organizations,” Madonna said.

The number of delegates Santorum picks up is obviously much less critical for him at this point than simply winning a state, any state, in the hopes that it will give his fading campaign a shot of momentum. But it does go to show how unrealistic Santorum’s chances at the nomination are at this point. Struggling to win your home state, with the chance that it might not even add much to your delegate count, is a sign quitting time is getting close. The question is whether he does it before Pennsylvania, or after. And that’ll likely depend on whether he’s able to stay above water, or at least close to the surface, in the state polls during the next few weeks.

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Win in PA Isn’t Optional for Romney

While there are still plenty of states left to vote in the Republican presidential race and Rick Santorum is thinking as much about 2016 as 2012, the rest of the country is beginning to focus this morning on the only real matchup that is left this year: Mitt Romney versus Barack Obama. Romney’s three primary wins last night solidified his status as the inevitable GOP nominee, and President Obama acknowledged that fact with a blistering direct attack on the Republican frontrunner that laid out the outlines of his campaign strategy. With Obama and the Democratic campaign machine beginning to focus all of their attention on Romney, that will start to diminish interest in what’s left of the GOP race.

But though Romney may not mention Rick Santorum’s name again until the day the latter concedes the nomination to him, he’s going to need to take the upcoming Pennsylvania primary seriously. The temptation for Romney is to view it as merely the chance to administer the coup de grace to Santorum’s challenge. But it’s actually more serious than that.

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While there are still plenty of states left to vote in the Republican presidential race and Rick Santorum is thinking as much about 2016 as 2012, the rest of the country is beginning to focus this morning on the only real matchup that is left this year: Mitt Romney versus Barack Obama. Romney’s three primary wins last night solidified his status as the inevitable GOP nominee, and President Obama acknowledged that fact with a blistering direct attack on the Republican frontrunner that laid out the outlines of his campaign strategy. With Obama and the Democratic campaign machine beginning to focus all of their attention on Romney, that will start to diminish interest in what’s left of the GOP race.

But though Romney may not mention Rick Santorum’s name again until the day the latter concedes the nomination to him, he’s going to need to take the upcoming Pennsylvania primary seriously. The temptation for Romney is to view it as merely the chance to administer the coup de grace to Santorum’s challenge. But it’s actually more serious than that.

It’s true that Santorum has virtually no chance to win the nomination even if he wins his home state on April 24. But as Santorum made clear in his speech last night, a win in his home state — even if it is narrow and even if he doesn’t actually win a majority of the delegates at stake there — will be used as a launching point for continuing an insurgency whose aim will be more to tear down Romney than to actually supplant him as the nominee. Santorum seems to be thinking about picking up the pieces of the party in the event Romney loses in the fall. That means both men know that victory in Pennsylvania is an imperative.

President Obama and his various surrogates are already starting to execute a campaign strategy of mockery aimed at Romney whose purpose is to portray him as too rich, weird, square and out of touch to be president. As the president indicated in his speech to newspaper editors yesterday, he sees no reason why the press should attempt to report both sides of the debate on the budget or taxes because he believes he has a monopoly on truth and justice.

The commencement of a blizzard of Democratic invective against Romney and the Republicans makes it imperative that the GOP close ranks and start to return fire on the incumbent. But if Santorum is able to use a win in Pennsylvania to fuel continuing attacks on Romney throughout the spring and even the summer, he will be doing Obama an enormous favor.

That means the next three weeks are likely to be the nastiest yet in what has been a long, nasty Republican race. Romney knows he must squelch Santorum now while he has a chance to humiliate him at home or else face a difficult couple of months that will undermine his chances of victory in the fall. If the gloves weren’t already off between these two, they certainly will be now.

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Is Santorum Contesting 2012 or 2016?

Mitt Romney’s victories in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia will add more than 80 delegates to his total and extend his commanding lead over Rick Santorum for the Republican presidential nomination. That sets up Pennsylvania as the primary that has the chance to put the Republicans out of their misery and finally end the GOP race. Since the other states that will vote on April 24 — New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware — will almost certainly go for Romney, Santorum’s homecoming may be his last stand.

While Pennsylvania is being given the opportunity to finally put a fork in the long, agonizing Republican presidential race, listening to Santorum’s speech in his home state tonight one got the feeling the candidate was thinking as much about 2016 as he was the 2012 contest. By repeatedly invoking Ronald Reagan’s presidential runs in 1976 and 1980, Santorum seemed to be preparing more to tell the GOP, “I told you so,” if Romney loses in November, than about his own chances this year.

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Mitt Romney’s victories in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia will add more than 80 delegates to his total and extend his commanding lead over Rick Santorum for the Republican presidential nomination. That sets up Pennsylvania as the primary that has the chance to put the Republicans out of their misery and finally end the GOP race. Since the other states that will vote on April 24 — New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware — will almost certainly go for Romney, Santorum’s homecoming may be his last stand.

While Pennsylvania is being given the opportunity to finally put a fork in the long, agonizing Republican presidential race, listening to Santorum’s speech in his home state tonight one got the feeling the candidate was thinking as much about 2016 as he was the 2012 contest. By repeatedly invoking Ronald Reagan’s presidential runs in 1976 and 1980, Santorum seemed to be preparing more to tell the GOP, “I told you so,” if Romney loses in November, than about his own chances this year.

Though Santorum’s chances of winning the GOP nomination are rapidly diminishing, his anger at what he called the party “aristocracy” that backed Romney seems to be increasing. Rather than easing up on the all-but inevitable nominee as Republicans prepare to face off against the Obama re-election juggernaut, Santorum appears to be doubling down on his resentment at the fact that his party is choosing the more moderate candidate.

Part of that can be attributed to a desire on Santorum’s part not to have his remarkable primary run end with a humiliating loss in three weeks in his home state that would all but end the GOP competition. Yet it’s doubtful that even many Santorum’s backers are still under the delusion that he has a ghost of a chance to prevail in the “second half” of the delegate race. But by continuing to brand Romney as indistinguishable from Obama, Santorum may have more in mind than just trying to save face in Pennsylvania or winning a few more primaries in May.

During the course of his Tuesday night speech, Santorum compared himself to George Washington as well as Ronald Reagan. But when he brought up Reagan’s challenge to the moderate GOP establishment of his day, he didn’t limit himself to the example of the 40th president’s successful 1980 run but also mentioned his close loss to Gerald Ford in 1976. Reagan took the battle for the GOP nomination to the convention that year much as Santorum would like to do in 2012. The difference between the two is that the delegate race that year was almost evenly divided between Reagan and Ford while this year’s contest is a runaway for Romney.

Yet what Santorum seems to be doing is not so much comparing his chances this year to Reagan’s in 1976 as he is to the Gipper’s picking up the pieces of his party after Ford lost the general election to Jimmy Carter. Just as Reagan conservatives argued in 1980 that the party had erred by choosing the moderate four years earlier, Santorum appears more interested in being able to tell the GOP it is making a mistake on Romney than anything else. So rather than being a good “team player” for his party and laying off Romney as the race winds down, Santorum is increasing the volume of his attacks on the frontrunner.

Even though there are good reasons to believe Santorum’s shortcomings as a candidate will never enable him to win the presidency, should Romney lose to Obama, there’s little doubt that the Pennsylvanian’s name will be at the top of the list of GOP contenders for 2016 next January. Santorum may well believe his hopes for another run will not be enhanced by doing the right thing by the GOP and giving up once it’s clear he hasn’t a prayer to win this year. Instead, he will concentrate on a kamikaze run aimed solely at proving that Romney ought not to be the nominee.

Just as Romney appears to have pivoted away from beating his Republican competitors to  being solely focused on the battle with Obama, Santorum may well be running with 2016 more in mind than 2012. Should Romney win in November, all this will be in vain, but right now Santorum appears to be betting heavily on Obama’s re-election and another primary run four years from now.

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Santorum’s Lead Narrows in Pennsylvania

Via Quinnipiac, Rick Santorum is now leading Mitt Romney by just six points among likely Pennsylvania Republican voters. The last Quinnipiac survey in mid-March showed Santorum with a 14-point lead, though keep in mind that poll was also taken among registered, not likely, Republican voters.

Favorite Son Rick Santorum leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 41 – 35 percent among likely voters in Pennsylvania’s Republican presidential primary, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul has 10 percent, with 7 percent for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Santorum tops Romney 43 – 33 percent among men, while women split 39 – 38 percent. Santorum also leads 53 – 24 percent among white evangelical Christians, 50 – 32 percent among Tea Party members and 48 – 30 percent among self-described conservatives. Romney is ahead 45 – 29 percent among self-described moderates.

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Via Quinnipiac, Rick Santorum is now leading Mitt Romney by just six points among likely Pennsylvania Republican voters. The last Quinnipiac survey in mid-March showed Santorum with a 14-point lead, though keep in mind that poll was also taken among registered, not likely, Republican voters.

Favorite Son Rick Santorum leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 41 – 35 percent among likely voters in Pennsylvania’s Republican presidential primary, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul has 10 percent, with 7 percent for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Santorum tops Romney 43 – 33 percent among men, while women split 39 – 38 percent. Santorum also leads 53 – 24 percent among white evangelical Christians, 50 – 32 percent among Tea Party members and 48 – 30 percent among self-described conservatives. Romney is ahead 45 – 29 percent among self-described moderates.

There seems to be a trend of Santorum losing ground in Pennsylvania, as we saw with the Franklin & Marshall College poll late last month. And assuming Romney sweeps all three primaries tonight, as it looks like he’s going to, this could become an extremely competitive race in Pennsylvania. There are still three weeks until the primary, plenty of time for Romney to rack up more endorsements and momentum.

And there are already other good signs for Romney in the state, according to Quinnipiac. He has a 59 percent favorability, and the majority believes that the “Etch A Sketch” criticism of Romney is an unfair attack. But that could also be because likely GOP voters expect politicians, including Romney, to flip on issues. They said 27 to 7 that Romney changes his position more than most public figures, with 60 percent saying he changes his positions about the same as most public figures.

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Another Pennsylvania Humiliation in Store for Santorum?

Rick Santorum’s supporters are still bravely pretending he has a viable chance to stop Mitt Romney from winning the Republican presidential nomination. There’s little chance of that happening, but the one prerequisite for his campaign to continue past April is for the former senator to win a smashing victory in his home state of Pennsylvania. But a Philadelphia Daily News/Franklin & Marshall poll published today shows that Santorum will be lucky to squeak out even a narrow victory in the one large state he has any hope of winning in the upcoming weeks. The survey shows Santorum holding a narrow 30-28-percentage point lead over Romney with Ron Paul at 9 percent and Newt Gingrich fading into complete insignificance at 6 percent.

To say that such a result is a potential catastrophe for the tottering Santorum campaign is an understatement. Earlier this week, Santorum said he was looking ahead to winning primaries in May in some states where he might hope his strong backing from evangelicals would make the difference. But if Santorum is trounced in every other state that votes in April, a narrow win or even a loss in Pennsylvania would be a clear sign  his run is coming to an end.

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Rick Santorum’s supporters are still bravely pretending he has a viable chance to stop Mitt Romney from winning the Republican presidential nomination. There’s little chance of that happening, but the one prerequisite for his campaign to continue past April is for the former senator to win a smashing victory in his home state of Pennsylvania. But a Philadelphia Daily News/Franklin & Marshall poll published today shows that Santorum will be lucky to squeak out even a narrow victory in the one large state he has any hope of winning in the upcoming weeks. The survey shows Santorum holding a narrow 30-28-percentage point lead over Romney with Ron Paul at 9 percent and Newt Gingrich fading into complete insignificance at 6 percent.

To say that such a result is a potential catastrophe for the tottering Santorum campaign is an understatement. Earlier this week, Santorum said he was looking ahead to winning primaries in May in some states where he might hope his strong backing from evangelicals would make the difference. But if Santorum is trounced in every other state that votes in April, a narrow win or even a loss in Pennsylvania would be a clear sign  his run is coming to an end.

Santorum’s difficulties at home should come as no surprise to those who have been following his efforts. Though Santorum’s impressive victories in the Middle West and South have erased some of the sting from his landslide defeat for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2006, that defeat is still very much in the minds of most Pennsylvanians. If, as James Carville memorably said of the state, Pennsylvania is “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between,” Santorum lost six years ago in no small measure because he forgot you can’t run there as if the Alabama part was the only place that voted. Santorum’s appeal on social issues has won him a string of victories in the Deep South, but it is not to be forgotten that his perceived extremism was a major factor in his 2006 defeat.

Mitt Romney is a good fit for many Pennsylvania Republicans. They think his more centrist approach, which is anathema in the Deep South, might actually give them a chance to carry the state in November. Many Tea Partiers still hold a grudge against Santorum for backing Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in a 2004 senatorial primary. The fact that Toomey vouched for Romney’s conservative credentials at a conference in the state last week was not lost on many in the state GOP.

With four weeks to go until Pennsylvanians go to the polls on April 24, Santorum has plenty of time to try and pad his slim lead. But his biggest problem is that it is going to be increasingly difficult to maintain the illusion he actually still has a chance to be the Republican nominee. With nearly half the delegates already chosen and with most of the states that have yet to vote not dominated by the evangelicals who helped win him several primaries, it is no longer enough for Santorum to merely be the leading “not Romney.” Gingrich’s collapse means he really does have the one-on-one matchup with Romney that he always desired, but it turns out this doesn’t guarantee him victory. Indeed, with Pennsylvania evenly split between the two, the end may be nearer for Santorum’s campaign than even his critics may have thought.

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Romney Juggernaut Sets Up GOP Endgame

After the walloping they took last night in Illinois, Rick Santorum’s supporters are hopeful that the next stop on the Republican primary calendar will cheer them up. Santorum is favored to win Saturday’s Louisiana Primary but that won’t change the fact that on Tuesday, he lost one of his last chances to win a state whose GOP is not dominated by evangelicals. The 47-35 percent beating he took in Illinois — which allowed Romney to win all but a handful of the state’s convention delegates — does more than merely reinforce the sense of Romney’s inevitability that is now acknowledged by all but the most diehard of his opponents’ supporters. The pattern of voting is such that there is now no longer any credible scenario that can be put forward in which Romney is denied a majority of the convention’s delegates by June.

Though the race will go on for at least another month, for the first time in this long and tortuous race, the end is clearly in sight. The April 24 Pennsylvania primary now looks to be an opportunity for Romney to close out his opponent by beating him in his home state. But even if Santorum can hold onto Pennsylvania, the May 8 trio of North Carolina, Indiana and West Virginia may be his last stand especially since Romney is likely to win most of the states that vote in April. The delegate math makes it impossible for Santorum to pretend that he can actually win the nomination on his own. Not even the complete collapse of Newt Gingrich’s candidacy — the former speaker finished dead last in the field of four behind Ron Paul — has been enough to prevent the frontrunner from assuming a commanding lead that will not be overtaken.

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After the walloping they took last night in Illinois, Rick Santorum’s supporters are hopeful that the next stop on the Republican primary calendar will cheer them up. Santorum is favored to win Saturday’s Louisiana Primary but that won’t change the fact that on Tuesday, he lost one of his last chances to win a state whose GOP is not dominated by evangelicals. The 47-35 percent beating he took in Illinois — which allowed Romney to win all but a handful of the state’s convention delegates — does more than merely reinforce the sense of Romney’s inevitability that is now acknowledged by all but the most diehard of his opponents’ supporters. The pattern of voting is such that there is now no longer any credible scenario that can be put forward in which Romney is denied a majority of the convention’s delegates by June.

Though the race will go on for at least another month, for the first time in this long and tortuous race, the end is clearly in sight. The April 24 Pennsylvania primary now looks to be an opportunity for Romney to close out his opponent by beating him in his home state. But even if Santorum can hold onto Pennsylvania, the May 8 trio of North Carolina, Indiana and West Virginia may be his last stand especially since Romney is likely to win most of the states that vote in April. The delegate math makes it impossible for Santorum to pretend that he can actually win the nomination on his own. Not even the complete collapse of Newt Gingrich’s candidacy — the former speaker finished dead last in the field of four behind Ron Paul — has been enough to prevent the frontrunner from assuming a commanding lead that will not be overtaken.

It is true that Romney is still losing among evangelical and very conservative GOP primary voters. But he is winning virtually every other demographic slice of the electorate including Tea Party supporters. While not being acclaimed with acclamation or even a great deal of enthusiasm, the notion that Republicans are unwilling to embrace Romney may be finally being put to rest. Those voting in GOP primaries continue to assert that the ability to beat President Obama in November is the most desirable quality in a candidate and there’s little doubt that Romney has the best chance of any Republican in the race.

Romney also appears to be hitting his stride as a candidate finally articulating a compelling case for his candidacy. His victory speech last focused on the theme of economic freedom rather than merely his usual laundry list of complaints about the president. If he can stay on that message, it will help him win over doubtful conservatives as well as reminding the rest of the electorate of his economic qualifications.

Though Santorum and Gingrich continue to complain about Romney’s huge financial advantage that excuse is also not exactly galvanizing the Republican base. The inability to raise the funds needed to compete or to run a campaign that is competent enough to file qualified delegate states wherever needed — points on which both challengers have fallen short — is hardly a recommendation for a presidential candidate. Even if Santorum is able to duplicate in Louisiana the same appeal that won him Mississippi and Alabama last week, that won’t convince anyone that he can win states with more diverse electorates, let alone amass enough delegates to prevent Romney from gaining a majority by June.

This sets up a GOP endgame in which Santorum, who has done far better than anyone ever thought possible last year, will play out the hand he has been dealt in the next few weeks. But there are few, if any, other wins waiting for him on the calendar. That will raise expectations that whether or not he wins Pennsylvania, his campaign will probably come to an end in the next four to six weeks.

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