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CAMPAIGN 2012

Santorum moves fuel predictions he will exit

Campaign that has pressed Romney hard ratchets back

By Bobby Caina Calvan
Globe Staff / April 7, 2012
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BONNEAUVILLE, Pa. - Rick Santorum’s campaign insisted Friday the former Pennsylvania senator is still in the race despite mounting pressure even from voters in his home state that he pull out before the Keystone State’s primary April 24.

But Santorum has scheduled no public events over the holiday weekend and has made no major media buys, fueling speculation that he might quit. Polling in Pennsylvania that shows him slipping against front-runner Mitt Romney raises the prospect of an embarrassing home-state loss that could hurt his chances if he were to make a run for the nomination in 2016.

A Santorum campaign spokesman said the candidate had a busy slate of events scheduled for next week and promised that a list would be released soon.

The question of Santorum’s continuation in the race was front and center at a gathering here of Adams County Republicans Thursday night.

Ken Wingert, a township supervisor and Romney backer, made a bold assertion: By the time Pennsylvania voters go to the polls, only the former Massachusetts governor will be left on the presidential ballot.

“The deal is done,’’ Wingert proclaimed, suggesting that Santorum has no chance of winning the GOP’s presidential nomination and should bow out before the primary to clear the path for Romney.

There were no gasps from those assembled, no accusations of treason against a native son. Santorum, who served two terms representing this state in the US Senate, is hardly a favored son in some quarters of his own state.

Polls indicate Pennsylvanians are just as torn about Santorum today as they were six years ago, when he failed in his reelection bid for a third term, losing to Democrat Bob Casey by 18 points, the widest margin anyone can remember.

Romney is campaigning hard in Pennsylvania, and when Election Day rolls around Santorum’s home-field advantage may have evaporated.

“He’s already lost Pennsylvania once, why not twice?’’ said Tom Parsley, 64, a construction contractor who also thinks Santorum should quit the race. Parsley twice voted for Santorum for the Senate, but could not support his third run. “The way he presented himself was just way too extreme.’’

At the GOP gathering here, not far from the Civil War battlefields of Gettysburg, Parsley, who is trying to win a spot as a delegate to the GOP convention, was adamant. A Santorum win would be a blow to Republican efforts to defeat Obama, Parsley said.

Santorum has given no clear indications that he is about to quit, although he is taking a respite this weekend from the nearly nonstop grind of campaigning, and some, including friends, have urged him to reconsider his candidacy. On Thursday, he huddled with key conservatives to plan a possible path to Tampa, where Republicans will gather in August for their convention.

On Friday, Santorum’s youngest daughter, Bella, born with a potentially fatal disease, was rushed to the hospital, according to the campaign. “The family requests prayers and privacy as Bella works her way to recovery,’’ said Hogan Gidley, Santorum’s director of communications.

Gidley insisted in an interview earlier this week that Santorum will take his campaign all the way to the convention.

Still, the campaign trail is rife with rumors that Santorum, famously stubborn, will soon relent to growing pressure for him to leave the race. A GOP political consultant in Pennsylvania found it noteworthy that the Santorum campaign had yet to make a major ad buy.

According to recent polls, Romney has been cutting into Santorum’s lead. A Quinnipiac poll earlier this week had Santorum leading by four percentage points; he was leading by 14 points about a month ago. And the race could move further in Romney’s favor when Romney, unwilling to cede Pennsylvania to Santorum, begins to throw more resources into the state.

For weeks now, Santorum, buoyed by victories in key states, has resisted calls from party elders to exit the race, saying that the party can only win back the White House with a genuine conservative to contest Obama.

That view resonates with supporters like Chad Collie, 35, who attended the GOP forum at the Catholic Veterans Hall here. “He has the strongest stance on the issues that are important to me. He’s the most fiscally conservative and most socially conservative. I like the fact that he’s from here, but I could care less if he was from California, Pennsylvania, or New York.’’

Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won their respective home states, noted Charlie Gerow, who is running Gingrich’s Pennsylvania campaign. “It would be an embarrassment,’’ he said, if Santorum “lost in his own state.’’

“I think he’s made his point,’’ Gerow said, noting that Santorum’s hard-won successes in his presidential campaign - particularly his victories in Iowa and Colorado - have helped him resurrect a political career deeply damaged by his Senate loss.

“He has a very risky situation here. It’s realistic he could lose Pennsylvania; and if he does, he’s damaged far beyond 2012,’’ said Gerow, suggesting that if Santorum bows out now, he will preserve his prospects for another presidential bid. “If you can’t win your own state, you can’t be a viable national candidate.’’

Romney leads the delegate race with 655, more than half the 1,144 required to capture the nomination. Santorum has won 272 delegates, according to a count tabulated by the Real Clear Politics website. Gingrich and Representative Ron Paul of Texas have no mathematical way of catching up to Romney’s delegate count, but they too have insisted they intend to stay in the race.

Elizabeth Hower, who chairs the Adams County Republican Committee, would rather see all of the candidates stay in the race. “We need a choice,’’ she said, but declined to speculate who would win the state - Romney or Santorum.

“It’s his home state, but it doesn’t automatically mean people will vote for him,’’ she said, of Santorum, noting that “there was a reason people voted him out.’’

While Santorum has won support for his passion and conservative ideology, his detractors depict him as abrasive and arrogant.

“He’s probably too proud to get out, and his last stand is Pennsylvania - but Pennsylvania has already said it didn’t want him for Senate either,’’ said Karl Anderson, 36, who runs a family-owned business in Gettysburg. “He doesn’t have a viable chance in November.’’

That might be the case, said Corey Kimple, a loan officer from Chambersburg, but he will nevertheless vote for his fellow Pennsylvanian. “His values and beliefs are what I believe in,’’ he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s safe to say that if he loses this state, again, he’s done.’’

Bobby Caina Calvan can be reached at bobby.calvan@globe.com. Follow him on twitter @GlobeCalvan.

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