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Right Turn
Posted at 09:15 AM ET, 04/03/2012

Could tonight be the end of the road for Santorum?

Mitt Romney is poised to capture winner-take-all primaries today in Washington D.C., Maryland and Wisconsin. At stake are nearly 100 delegates. Should Romney take all three, he will be well past the delegate half-way mark with approximately 660 delegates.

Rick Santorum, who couldn’t manage to get on the D.C. ballot, was once leading in Wisconsin. No more. He has trailed in every poll since his drubbing in Illinois.

Romney spent the last few days campaigning with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). He snagged the endorsement of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Last week’s high-profile endorsements from Ryan, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and former Florida governor Jeb Bush are likely to help pad his margin of victory.

With even Newt Gingrich acknowledging Romney is the likely nominee, Santorum is now virtually alone in his conviction that he can win this thing. He insists he will stay in the race until Romney hits the 1,144 mark in delegates. As the party lines up behind Romney, however, Santorum’s aura as a credible candidate has faded quickly. He is slipping fast in national polls.

If Romney sweeps all three races today, pressure on Santorum to give up his fruitless quest for the nomination will intensify. Santorum surely will want to build on his back-from-the-dead political re-emergence on the national stage, whether to try to position himself for a future presidential race or to claim the mantle of grassroots leader. After today, however, he risks cementing his image as a spoiler and self-deluded pol.

I wouldn’t expect Santorum to exit immediately after today’s contests, not after clawing his way back into the political limelight and enjoying national attention for the first time in his career. But he’ll have three weeks to make a critical decision: Get out or risk losing in his home state of Pennsylvania.

That risk is real, as the National Journal’s Alex Roarty reported:

Santorum’s home-state connection notwithstanding, the makeup of the Pennsylvania GOP gives Romney a chance to win the state. Exit polls from the 2008 Republican presidential primary aren’t available for Pennsylvania, but its demographics are similar to other Midwest states like Ohio and Michigan. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, scored narrow wins in both.
“Clearly Pennsylvania is similar to Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin,” said Jake Corman, a state senator and one of Santorum’s most prominent supporters in the state. “It’s the Rust Belt area, where there’s a lot of manufacturing.”
Yet Pennsylvania’s most populous region — Philadelphia and the suburbs tucked into its southeast corner — is chock full of the upscale, college-educated Republicans who have formed Romney’s base throughout the primary. It’s the region most critical to Romney’s efforts in the state, and it accounts for 35 percent of the Republican vote statewide, according to Brian Nutt, a longtime GOP strategist in the state and Santorum’s Pennsylvania director.
Because of the size of the Philadelphia media market — it includes Delaware and southern New Jersey — it’s hyper-expensive, a potential challenge for the cash-strapped Santorum operation.
“If Rick Santorum doesn’t commit substantial resources to the state, he’ll lose,” said Phil English, a former congressman from the state’s northwest region and a Romney supporter. “And he may lose anyway.”

That realization, if not by Santorum then by his wife and/or close-knit group of advisers, may accelerate his departure from the race. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Salena Zito (who has followed Santorum’s career up close) reported:

The campaign should end before the April 24 primary here if the former senator continues to slide in opinion polls and lose other primaries, said Ed Morrissey, editor of the widely-read conservative blog, Hot Air.
“Losing in Pennsylvania not only finishes him in the race, but it may finish him for good,” said Morrissey, who caucused for Santorum last week in Minnesota.

It is possible today’s results will serve as a wake-up call for Santorum and that a political and emotional survival instinct will kick in, albeit belatedly. If not, and Santorum insists on trudging on, the primary contest will move to the April 24 states (of which Pennsylvania is likely the only real possibility for Santorum), with a number of onlookers (like casual NASCAR fans) interested mainly in seeing a race-ending crash. We’ll see if it comes to that.

By  |  09:15 AM ET, 04/03/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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