Monday, December 11, 2017
Politics

Rick Santorum suspends presidential campaign

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Rick Santorum came to this storied battleground Tuesday and abruptly surrendered his campaign for president. But as Mitt Romney effectively seizes the Republican nomination, his rival's presence could linger in the tough months ahead.

More than any of the other contenders in the long, strange GOP primary, Santorum exposed Romney's core weaknesses: a difficulty connecting with voters and a moderate past that may win over independents in the general election but left many conservatives yearning for someone else.

"The real question for Romney now is, can Republicans unite? Can he get enthusiasm out of the base?" said Pennsylvania pollster Terry Madonna.

Romney already is feeling the effects of Santorum pushing birth control, abortion and other social issues to the forefront at a time when Romney wanted a laser focus on the economy. Women are peeling away from the GOP, polls show, providing a boost to President Barack Obama.

Santorum came from nothing, emerging from a crowded field to win the Iowa caucuses and 10 other states, all while delaying Romney's coronation and making him spend millions more than planned.

"People said 'How did this happen, how were we able to come from nowhere?' " Santorum asked at a news conference at the Gettysburg Hotel. "Because I was smart enough to figure out that if I understood and felt at a very deep level what you were experiencing across America and try to be a witness to that . . . then your voice could be heard and miracles would happen.

"And so it did. Miracle after miracle, this race was as improbable as a race you'll ever see for president."

Santorum, 53, said he made the decision the same way he began the race: with his family gathered at the kitchen table. His wife, Karen, and four of his children stood with him Tuesday.

"While this presidential race for us is over, for me, and we will suspend our campaign effective today, we are not done fighting," said Santorum, who held back tears and vowed to help defeat Obama and win Republican control of Congress.

Santorum had virtually no chance to catch Romney, who overpowered him with organization, money and delegates. Santorum also faced the distinct prospect of losing the Pennsylvania primary April 24, which would be a humiliating defeat in the state he represented in Congress for 16 years.

It would have echoed Santorum's landslide loss in his 2006 U.S. Senate re-election bid and stained his political future. Romney was poised to unleash a $2.9 million spending blitz with a TV ad highlighting that loss to Democrat Bob Casey Jr. but pulled back after Santorum's 3-year-old daughter was hospitalized over the weekend.

Bella Santorum suffers from a rare genetic disorder and returned home Monday night.

Santorum had been expected to start Tuesday with a rally in Bedford, about two hours west of Gettysburg, but his campaign emailed reporters after midnight to say the schedule had been upended. In Gettysburg, Santorum implied his daughter played a role in his decision to suspend his campaign but never fully explained his decision.

"She is a fighter and doing exceptionally well," Santorum said, but noted it "did cause us to think." His daughter's illness drew widespread sympathy and provided the graceful exit many thought Santorum needed.

"A lot of Republican leaders are happy with him," Madonna said. "They avoid this divisive primary here, which would have been very high profile. In that sense, he lives to fight again."

Santorum did not mention Romney during his remarks and at one point said people, "even those at the White House," may now consider it "game over."

But the two men spoke and Romney requested a meeting. Santorum endorsed Romney in the 2008 election, and observers think he would stay true to his pledge to help defeat Obama.

Romney issued a statement praising Santorum as a "worthy competitor" and congratulating him on a good campaign. "He has proven himself to be an important voice in our party and in the nation."

Two other candidates besides Romney remain — Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul — but neither can stop Romney, who sealed his future by sweeping primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia last week. He had twice as many delegates as Santorum and his lead is now insurmountable.

Freed from the rigors of a primary, Romney can now fully focus on Obama, who campaigned and raised money in Florida on Tuesday and will return to Tampa on Friday, pressing every advantage of his incumbency in a key battleground state.

Romney has to pivot to a broader message, and his past could help. He cut a more moderate profile as a politician in Massachusetts than he presented in the primary and that could be an asset in gaining independent voters.

At the same time, Santorum helped draw out many of those contrasts, heightening the image of Romney as a shape shifter. More than anything Santorum tried to drive home similarities between the health care plan Romney oversaw as governor and the law enacted under Obama. With Romney as the nominee, Santorum warned, Republicans would lose a central focus, though Romney has said he would seek to repeal "Obamacare" as well.

Santorum's Tuesday event hinted at the news before it was announced. It was held in a small room and the public was not invited, only reporters, though Gettysburg resident Chad Collie, 35, managed to squeeze in.

"I'm very stunned and disappointed," Collie said afterward. "He had tons of support coming up. In Texas, he was polling far ahead." Now he's not sure whether he'll support Romney or take a pass on the election.

Romney's "not genuine," Collie said. "He's not the one I want for president."

But the day brought a fresh wave of calls by prominent Republicans to back Romney. Herman Cain, who had a brief turn at the top of the presidential primary before dropping out, said he would throw support behind him. So did Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

"Mitt Romney will be our party's nominee, and it is critical that all Republicans coalesce behind (him) and focus on electing him as president."

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