GOP hopeful Rick Santorum has been open about his seriously ill daughter, Bella, who suffers from a genetic disorder called Trisomy 18. Bella, now three and a half, was not expected to survive until her first birthday.

The Washington Post’s Melinda Henneberger wrote about how Bella’s illness drives Santorum—and his campaign.

His is easily the most searing personal narrative offered by any candidate this season. And when he speaks of Bella publicly, it is almost always in conjunction with his top policy goal of dismantling the health-care reform legislation, which he sees as a threat to those like her, “on the margins of life.”

Yet after he shared the story of her struggle and his decision to run anyway — not so much in spite of her fragile condition as because of it — people at King’s event didn’t seem to know how to respond; as the former Pennsylvania senator slowly worked his way through the emptying ballroom after the dinner, nobody mentioned his daughter, though one woman asked if his children ever got to travel with him.

In a heartbreaking situation, and running near the back of the pack in the polls, Santorum said the campaign has been “incredibly hard” on his family — emotionally and financially. He’s given up all paid employment, including his work for Fox News, to make the run.

Post readers have engaged in a lively debate about whether or not it’s appropriate for Santorum to campaign.

On Monday, Henneberger chatted with Washington Post readers about the issue, including comparisons to other presidential candidates who had family struggles, such as Sarah Palin, who has a special needs son, and John Edwards, who campaigned as his wife was treated for breast cancer.

All presidential candidates are ambitious, and these campaigns do take a toll on all families. I did wonder whether a male candidate would have been criticized in the same way Sarah Palin was, but now it seems that the answer is yes as Rick Santorum is getting a similar reaction. He struggles with the right answer himself, but when I talked to him I thought he came across as a heartbroken father trying to give meaning to a tragic situation. As for John Edwards, it was Elizabeth who wouldn't hear of him suspending the campaign. But that he should have been more considerate is definitely true!

Back on the campaign trail, Santorum is focusing on Iowa. With the state’s caucuses only 29 days away, The Fix’s Chris Cillizza wrote the CliffsNotes version of what every political junkie needs to know about Iowa.

Regular readers know that we are skeptical of the power of endorsements, but with six in 10 likely Iowa GOP caucusgoers in a new Des Moines Register poll saying they are open to changing their mind about a candidate, the support of the state’s largest and most influential newspaper is not to be scoffed at. While the Register endorsement probably has less sway in a Republican primary than in a Democratic one, it still matters — and any of the candidates would love to have it.

The two most likely endorsees are former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney . They haven’t spent the most time in the state — former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) have that distinction — but they stand at the top of most Iowa surveys.

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