- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2012

Rick Santorum is in a difficult place politically in his home state of Pennsylvania, where he hopes to revive his flagging presidential bid. A win for the state’s former two-term senator in the April 24 primary wouldn’t shock the world, while a loss to rival Mitt Romney could stick a fork in his White House hopes.

Once seen as a bulwark to revive his campaign after a string of Romney wins, Pennsylvania now looms as a trap for the Santorum campaign.

Mr. Romney said as much during a campaign stop Thursday in Harrisburg, telling reporters that Mr. Santorum, who served the state in the House and Senate for 16 years, should be strongly favored to win in his old electoral backyard.

“Everybody expects someone to win their home state,” he said, trying to set the expectations low for his own chances of emerging victorious in Pennsylvania. “Newt Gingrich won his state; I won my state. I think people expect the senator to win his home state. But I’ll pick up a lot of delegates, and we have several other states with contests the same day. I hope to win all of those, and if I can win the others and pick up some delegates here, it will give me an even stronger lead.”


Two Keystone State polls released this week offered little comfort to Mr. Santorum, who lost his 2006 re-election bid for the Senate in a tough political year for Republicans by nearly 18 percentage points. A Rasmussen Reports poll of likely GOP voters gave Mr. Santorum a slim 42 percent to 38 percent lead over Mr. Romney, while a Public Policy Polling survey Thursday put Mr. Romney in the lead, 42 percent to 37 percent — just outside the poll’s margin of error.

GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney campaigns Thursday in Tunkhannock, Pa. The former Massachusetts governor said he expects to "pick up a lot of delegates" in the Keystone State. (Associated Press)
GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney campaigns Thursday in Tunkhannock, Pa. The former ... more >

Despite the daunting odds, Mr. Santorum huddled Thursday in Northern Virginia with a group of prominent conservatives. The focus of the closed-door gathering, according to longtime conservative activist and Santorum supporter Richard Viguerie, was not on winding down the campaign, but on what options remained to stop Mr. Romney.

“I and other friends of the Santorum campaign came to the meeting with some bold, new, imaginative ideas on how Rick can go over the heads of the establishment to get his message out to the American people,” Mr. Viguerie said in a statement after the gathering. “Rick is excited about these ideas and is looking forward to implementing them.”

On the meeting’s agenda, according to participants: the future of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s candidacy, which has divided the anti-Romney vote in some states; ways to rally conservatives and reclaim the GOP nomination fight “narrative”; and pushback against what Santorum backers say are inaccurate delegate counts put out by the Romney campaign and the media.

Air of inevitability

Mr. Romney added to the air of inevitability that he will be the GOP presidential nominee by sweeping the presidential primaries this week in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Wisconsin. Pennsylvania holds its nomination contest the same day as Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York — states that are seen as favorable turf for the former Massachusetts governor.

With that as a backdrop, Charlie Gerow, a Pennsylvania-based Republican strategist who serves as state chairman for the Gingrich campaign, predicted the Romney camp and its deep-pocketed super PAC allies will look for the knockout blow, ramping up their attacks against Mr. Santorum in his home state.

“My sense is the Romney camp sees Pennsylvania as a no-lose situation,” Mr. Gerow said, adding that beyond surviving there is not a whole lot of upside for Mr. Santorum to stick around. “Rick not only has to win in Pennsylvania, he has to win by a significant margin.”

The fact, though, that the race is dragging on leaves Mr. Romney in the tricky position of trying to fight off Mr. Santorum, while at the same time trying to shift into general-election mode by focusing on President Obama.

“It is more than a nuisance for the front-runner, as he will have to continue to devote resources to the GOP battle rather than against the president,” said Mark J. Rozell, political science professor at George Mason University. “At this stage, no one can credibly spin any longer that [Mr. Romney] is becoming a stronger candidate due to a bruising nomination battle — he just continues to look like a weak front-runner.”

A rerun of 1976?

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