- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2012

CARNEGIE, Pa. — Despite another disappointing primary night this week, Rick Santorum wants to remind Mitt Romney and GOP leaders that the presidential nomination is not sewn up and that this month’s Pennsylvania primary is his campaign’s make-or-break contest.

While his aides had talked about states later in the primary season — such as Texas — being crucial, Mr. Santorum said Wednesday that Pennsylvania will be the victory he needs to bolster his argument that the race is not over. He represented the Keystone State for 16 years in the House and then the Senate before badly losing his re-election bid in 2006.

“We have to win here, and we plan on winning here,” said a defiant Mr. Santorum, minutes after polishing off eggs, hash browns and bread at a diner here just outside Pittsburgh.

From where he’s standing, a win will give him momentum heading into the friendlier May contests — particularly in Texas — where, he claimed, a move is afoot to award delegates on a winner-take-all, as opposed to proportional, basis.

“You throw 154 delegates on our pile and all of a sudden this race becomes a very, very, different race,” he said.

Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, cemented his status as king of the hill in the GOP presidential race Tuesday by scoring victories in Maryland, the District and Wisconsin — the one primary in which Mr. Santorum tried to compete.

On Wednesday, he and his team turned their attacks toward President Obama, sending a strong message that they believe the primaries this week showed the nomination battle is all but over.

“Republicans spoke loud and clear: it’s time to get behind Mitt Romney,” spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.

The Associated Press shows Mr. Romney with 655 delegates, more than half of the 1,144 needed to win the nomination before the national convention in Tampa, Fla., this summer. Mr. Santorum has 278, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has 135 and Texas Rep. Ron Paul has 51.

Mr. Santorum sounded undeterred Wednesday. He said he won’t bow down to party leaders who are urging him to abandon his bid in the name of party unity, with the latest plea coming Wednesday from Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the party’s 2008 nominee. Mr. McCain said Mr. Santorum should recognize it is “time for a graceful exit.”

“I’ve endured about eight months of people saying that,” Mr. Santorum said. “Everyone has been asking me since the days I was trucking around Iowa to get out of the race. So, I’ve never been the establishment’s candidate, and that holds true today.”

Some supporters openly acknowledge that it is unlikely Mr. Santorum will be the nominee.

“It would take a miracle,” said John R. Bonassi, an adjunct professor at West Liberty (W.Va.) University who worked with Mr. Santorum during his first House campaign. “Math 101 kind of gets us to that point, and I think an open floor at the convention is not what you want. I think it’s too divisive.”

Mr. Bonassi called Mr. Santorum “a fighter” and likened his desire to stay in the race to an aging athlete not ready to throw in the towel.

“The smart thing, the prudent thing, would be to win Pennsylvania and step aside going out as a winner,” Mr. Bonassi said.

Even that approach carries some risk, warned Christopher Borick, a political-science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.

“The risk is that he loses in Pennsylvania and ends an otherwise good chapter in his career on an atrocious note,” Mr. Borick said. “In many ways, his career has been defined by his disastrous 2006 Senate loss in Pennsylvania and to have that now bookend with a loss in a GOP presidential primary would really be awful in terms of legacy.”

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