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SILBERT: No quit in Santorum

Regardless of Pennsylvania polling outcome, candidate will soldier on

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Will former Sen. Rick Santorum drop out before the April 24 primary in his home state of Pennsylvania? That's the big question for those watching the 2012 Republican race.

Mr. Santorum surely knows the risks of tarnishing his incredible 2012 run, including his win in the Iowa caucuses, if he stays in after the tank is empty.

I performed field work in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley for Democratic candidates in 2008.

I talked with enough voters on both sides to know that Mr. Santorum remained unpopular in that part of the state (I can't speak for voters to the West).

Anecdotal evidence aside, Mr. Santorum has few tools to turn around his fortunes back home. He has virtually no campaign infrastructure. His speeches following each contest consist of little more than family and key staff on stage, sufficient to fill the network TV cameras. And his narrow band of donors is reportedly tapped out - though Foster Freiss, Mr. Santorum's prodigious donor, says he's not done contributing.

Jeff Katz, the conservative Boston talk show host (and Philadelphia native), even suggested this week that Mitt Romney might agree to back off in Pennsylvania to let Mr. Santorum "save face," with the understanding that Mr. Santorum would exit the race afterwards.

Mr. Santorum is unlikely to cut his losses, however. He doesn't think that way. After his 17-point Senate race thumping by Bob Casey in 2006 - a bad year for Republicans and an even worse one for Mr. Santorum - it seemed inconceivable that he would run for president.

Then at the annual Pennsylvania Society gala at the Waldorf in late 2010, I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw supporters (including trade union members) passing out Rick '12 pins. This past year, when every Republican except Mr. Santorum received their "not-Romney" surge, he continued to methodically and tirelessly plod through each of Iowa's counties.

Nor should he quit. Mr. Santorum knows that the primary calendar shifts in the coming months to more conservative states, including Texas, if he can hold on. David Brody of the Christian Broadcast Network has referred to Mr. Santorum as a "bulldog" on the campaign trail.

He represents a distinct portion of the base. He has a strong manufacturing message and good rapport with blue collar workers - which Mr. Romney lacks. And lest we forget, Mr. Santorum gained the support of a broad group of evangelical religious leaders who met on a Texas ranch in January.

His own words suggest both salvation and motivation. "It was an eye-opening, awakening experience for me," Mr. Santorum recently told Pennsylvania voters of his 2006 loss, "and I took that as a good sort of self-correction."

In a foreboding sign for Mr. Santorum, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio broke from their neutrality and endorsed Mr. Romney the other week. George H.W. Bush formally did so as well. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who reportedly may back Mr. Romney, could be the icing on the cake.

Since the delegate math weighs heavily against him, Mr. Santorum's plan could be to amass enough delegates to bring his social issues and conservative message to the convention floor. In that sense, he's playing for more than just his own nomination.

So despite Mr. Romney's coronation by party leaders and pundits, odds are the indefatigable Mr. Santorum will forge ahead and take his chances in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Adam Silbert is an attorney, served as a deputy field organizer for the 2008 Obama campaign in Pennsylvania.

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