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Rick Santorum cancels Sunday campaign plans to be with ill daughter Bella

at 11:15 AM ET, 01/29/2012

With his 3-year-old daughter still hospitalized in Philadelphia, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum will skip
planned Florida campaign events Sunday afternoon, his campaign announced Sunday morning.


Elizabeth Santorum, eldest daughter of Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, campaigns for her father in a hanger at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport in Sarasota, Fla., Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012. (Paul Sancya - AP)

Santorum had already canceled a planned appearance on NBC's Meet the Press and plans to attend a Miami-area church Sunday morning, so he could be with 3-year-old Bella, who was born with a rare genetic disorder and has faced frequent hospitalizationsand surgeries.

His campaign had said Saturday night that he might attend a rally planned for Sunday afternoon in Sarasota and a deliver a speech in Punta Gorda later in the day.

Instead, the campaign now says Santorum's five older children, led by eldest Elizabeth, 20, will host the rally on his behalf.

They will be joined by the Duggar family, the reality show couple who have 19 children and have been campaigning for Santorum since Iowa.

The campaign has indicated that Santorum plans to return to Florida as soon as possible. They have not released details of Bella's condition but Santorum supporters have indicated over Twitter that it is serious and have asked for prayers on her behalf.

Santorum speaks frequently on the campaign trail about the challenges of raising a special needs child. He, wife Karen and his other six children sometimes wear buttons featuring a picture of Bella at campaign events, they say so she is present in spirit since her condition makes travel difficult.

Bella has come to be seen as a symbol of Santorum's strong position on abortion because he says that many childrendiagnosed with her condition, Trisomy 18, are aborted before birth.

Polls show Santorum trailing front-runners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich for the Republican nomination. Before the personal setback, Santorum had insisted he planned to remain in the race through Super Tuesday on March 6 and that he believed the caucus and primary states that will follow Tuesday’s Florida vote would provide new opportunity to move ahead.

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