Posted at 03:12 PM ET, 01/29/2012

Rick Santorum’s children take his place on the campaign stage in Florida

Sarasota, Fla.— A Rick Santorum campaign event here Sunday opened with a moment of silence for his daughter, Bella, who is hospitalized in Philadelphia. Santorum canceled his Sunday campaign events to be with her.

Standing in for her father, Santorum’s eldest child, Elizabeth, 20,
A supporter of Republican presidential hopeful and former senator Rick Santorum wears a pin with a photo of Bella Santorum that reads reads "Go Dad! Love, Bella" during an appearance in Iowa earlier this month. (Andrew Burton - GETTY IMAGES)
rallied a Sarasota crowd of supporters gathered in an airport hangar saying that her dad was “exercising his most important role, which is being a dad.”

“This is not the easiest course for our family,” she said. “But we knew that it would be worth it because America is worth it.”

On the stump, the former Pennsylvania senator has often talked about his family--he is the father of seven. Bella, 3, suffers from Trisomy 18, a genetic disorder that causes severe mental and physical developmental problems. Aides said Santorum will return to the trail as soon as possible, but there has been no update on Bella’s condition.

Members of the Duggar family, of reality TV fame, joined Santorum’s daughter on stage. The Duggars, who have 19 children, have been touring Florida in their family bus which is stenciled with “Rick Santorum for President.”

They plan to fill in for Santorum at an event in Punta Gorda later this afternoon.

Santorum has all but conceded the race here, acknowledging that he has neither the money nor organization to compete in the massive state, where about 2 million Republicans will cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary. The winner will get all 50 delegates.

Santorum has no ads on television or radio in Florida, and it’s unclear whether he will here election night. While his conservative, blue-collar message is popular here and he has drawn decent-size crowds, he has not had the kind of presence in this state to get that message out.

After a strong debate performance Thursday in Jacksonville, he added events to his schedule, but returned home this weekend to get his taxes together.

Since his daughter took ill, he has not returned, though he has a tele-town hall scheduled with Florida Republicans Sunday night.

Polls show him trailing Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich badly.

Campaign aides insist that he has no immediate plans to drop out of the race.

Elizabeth Santorum, who has taken a year off from college, urged the crowd to show up for her dad.

“You have three days left, let’s take this all the way,” she said.

By  |  03:12 PM ET, 01/29/2012

 
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