Santorum might drop out rather than lose home state primary in Pennsylvania

The possibility of a loss in his home state of Pennsylvania might force Rick Santorum to drop out of the Republican primary sooner than he’d planned, say GOP strategists.

Santorum is notoriously strong-willed, and those close to him say that party elders will not be able to convince him to exit the race if he thinks he has a shot at the Republican nomination.

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But one of Santorum’s close friends told The Hill that while the former Pennsylvania senator remains confident about winning his home state and using that to build May momentum, if that confidence falters, he might exit the race. Pennsylvania state Sen. Jake Corman (R), a longtime friend of Santorum and his family, said if it appeared Santorum wasn’t going to win the state, the former senator could drop his campaign.

“He’s a realist; he doesn’t have his head in the clouds,” Corman told The Hill. “As long as he sees a pathway to the nomination he’s going to stay in it, but he won’t stay in it to prove a point. If he gets to the point where he doesn’t think he’ll be the nominee, he’ll get out.”

Santorum is running second in the delegate count to rival Mitt Romney, and the party establishment is increasing pressure on the former senator to exit the race and clear a path for the former Massachusetts governor.


And while he led Romney by six points in a Quinnipiac poll of Pennsylvania voters out Tuesday, that was before Romney’s win in Wisconsin on Tuesday night. It’s also a decline for the former senator, who led Romney by double digits earlier this month.

Many Republican strategists argue that Santorum has resurrected his political career after a bad 2006 Senate loss with his surprisingly strong presidential campaign — but that another loss in his home state could undo all that work, leading to predictions that if he thinks he could lose Pennsylvania, he might bow out.

“If he loses Pennsylvania twice, that’s going to really hobble him in the future. That’d be very hard to live down,” said Kirsten Fedewa, Mike Huckabee’s 2008 communications director.

Fedewa speculated that Santorum may be encountering what Huckabee faced near the end of his campaign.

“There’s a point on the campaign trail where you start seeing diminishing returns, thinner crowds, you’re not getting the big boost on your website fundraising, the enthusiasm factor is dying down,” she said. “He’s going to be feeling it on the stump and seeing the impact on his campaign. He’s an anti-establishment candidate, so what the establishment does or doesn't do isn’t going to persuade him — but when he sees the intensity factor waning, that’s going to weigh heavily.”

Santorum is campaigning hard in his home state. The last two primary nights he’s held his post-election rallies in Pennsylvania. He’s scheduled to spend Wednesday campaigning there.

The former senator has insisted he’ll stay in the race through the April 24 primaries that include Pennsylvania as well as a number of states friendly to Romney: New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware, and fight on through May, when the map includes a number of states where Santorum could be in good shape.

But Romney is not going to cede Pennsylvania. His campaign sent full-time staffers to the state last week and he will stump there Wednesday. A super-PAC that backs him has made inquiries about the costs of television buys in the state and has indicated it will make a large buy there soon, according to local sources.

Romney also has the endorsement of four Pennsylvania lawmakers — one more than Santorum’s three, according to The Hill’s tally.

On top of that, Santorum’s fundraising might have slowed to a trickle as his star has faded — and if he continues his campaign, there could be severe backlash from establishment Republicans that might limit his future role in the party.

“The biggest problem for Santorum is there’s a three-week lull, no way to break the media narrative that Romney has this sewn up and a continued race will only hurt the nominee,” Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak told The Hill on Monday. “Santorum’s desperately trying to survive until May … when does the pressure become too much?”

PoliticsPA managing editor Keegan Gibson said many of the attacks Romney has leveled against Santorum have even more resonance in Pennsylvania: his endorsement of centrist former Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) over now-Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) in their 2004 primary and his move from Pennsylvania to the Washington, D.C., suburbs with his family. Santorum’s “going Washington” was a major attack line from Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) when he beat Santorum in 2006.

Another factor: Some of Toomey’s Tea Party backers remain angry at Santorum for his 2004 endorsement of Specter. Toomey himself has not endorsed Santorum, but recently praised Romney as a “conservative who will govern as a conservative.”

At a recent conservative confab in the state, Santorum was received politely but not raucously, and failed to garner a majority of the conference’s straw poll vote.

Former Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.), a Romney backer who managed Santorum’s first House race in 1990, called the results “stunning.”

“He’s done nothing to repair the damage that was created in the lead-up to 2006, and a lot of it was self-inflicted,” said English, who praised Santorum for his strong campaign but warned that if he continued to run the GOP establishment might blackball him in the future, which could severely limit his influence within the party.

“I supported Rick Santorum every time he ran for office and was thrilled he did as well as he did … but Rick Santorum has already effectively lost the nomination,” he said. “The question becomes, does he have any role in the future of the party?”

— This story was updated at 12:21 p.m.