Tuesday’s contests were significant because they marked the first of two important days for Santorum’s candidacy-and what the Romney forces see as a critical three-week period that could effectively end a nomination battle that has lasted longer than many strategists had predicted when it began a few months ago.
Romney’s victory in Wisconsin was another major blow to Santorum. The former senator has had success in southern primaries but had lost Michigan, Ohio and Illinois to Romney in earlier contests and needed to demonstrate that he could expand his support beyond the narrow base that has backed his candidacy since he emerged as Romney’s main challenger.
Romney is favored to win all the other states except Pennsylvania with contests on April 24-New York, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island. Santorum hopes that a victory in Pennsylvania will give him the legitimacy and the political lift to keep going into May, despite his underdog status. A poll released Tuesday showed Santorum leading in Pennsylvania by six points, but that margin is narrower than some earlier polls showed.
For many of the reasons the contests this month tend to favor Romney, the calendar in May is far more hospitable to Santorum. The May contests include primaries in North Carolina, West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky and Texas, states that have a significant number of evangelical Christians in the Republican electorate and that are similar in makeup to some of those Santorum already has won.
“If we win Pennsylvania, it sets up huge momentum going into the month of May, which we believe will be a great month for us,” said John Brabender, Santorum’s top strategist. “We think Pennsylvania will be do or die for both candidates.”
Santorum has said he will not consider dropping out of the race until it is clear that Romney has reached the delegate threshold to guarantee his nomination. The former governor began the day with almost 572 delegates, while Santorum was at 272, according to the Associated Press count.
Gingrich and Paul also have vowed to stay in the race for now, but they are not attacking Romney the way Santorum has been doing. Gingrich in particular has shifted his rhetorical focus from Romney to the president.