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The Trail: 2012 Presidential News from the Field / CAMPAIGN 2012

Conservatives Say Santorum Must Stay in Race

Embattled candidate meets with right-wing activists to discuss a path forward.

April 5, 2012

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum huddled with staff and conservative movement leaders in Northern Virginia on Thursday to plot the future of a campaign that the political establishment has pronounced dead.

The meeting came two days after Republican front-runner Mitt Romney swept contests in Maryland, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. Prominent Republicans are increasingly calling for an end to the bitter primary season so the party can rally behind Romney and focus on defeating President Obama. But Santorum -- along with fellow underdogs Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul -- say they are undeterred, despite their implausible route to the nomination.

"The meeting today was a strategy session to figure out what other things the senator can do to successfully cross the finish line,” said Gary Bauer, a leading religious conservative.

 

Rebecca Hagelin, a former official at the conservative Heritage Foundation who joined the meeting by phone, said the possibility of Santorum leaving the race did not come up. The former U.S. senator has vowed to breathe new life into his campaign by winning his home-state primary in Pennsylvania later this month and carrying on until May, which will feature a number of potentially favorable contests.

"We are at a halfway point, and at half time the coaches get together and talk about strategy,'' Hagelin said. "We came out of that meeting thinking that we need to get better at getting our message out because we're being so outspent. We need to be better and smarter about using our limited dollars.''

The Santorum campaign is disputing the Associated Press delegate count that shows Romney with 658 delegates and Santorum with only 281 delegates. Hagelin said those estimates don't take into account that states with caucuses will hold separate votes to elect actual delegates to the convention, or that national Republican party rules say that Florida and Arizona cannot award all of their delegates to Romney. 

A memo from the Santorum campaign titled "The Media's Delegate Math is Wrong'' puts the count at Romney with 571 delegates and Santorum with 342 delegates.

Hagelin added that the campaign was hopeful about the slim chance that Texas would award all of its delegates to the top winner, instead of proportionally, when it votes on May 29. "Rick was resolute, as he always is, and very optimistic about the future of the campaign,'' she said.

Some Santorum allies want Gingrich to bow out so he can take on Romney more directly, but a spokesman for the former House Speaker said on Thursday that is not happening.

"Newt is not dropping out and releasing his delegates to support Sen. Santorum,'' said Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond, who also dismissed the idea of an "anti-Romney alliance'' between the two candidates.

Word of Thursday’s meeting, coupled with news that Santorum was set to take a four-day break from the campaign trail, sparked widespread speculation he was poised to end his campaign. But Santorum allies pushed back in earnest on that notion, arguing that campaigning during the four-day Easter holiday would be a personal affront to the deeply religious ex-senator and potentially alienate his core constituency of Evangelicals.

"There are a handful of days that Christians, especially evangelicals and observant Catholics, believe deserve to be honored in quiet reflection. The Santorums and nearly every key staff member fall into one of these categories,” said Jeff Coleman, a GOP consultant and Pennsylvania-based Santorum supporter.

He added, “It would be pretty unseemly for the candidate who has made faith the driving motivator of his campaign to be working a rope line instead of taking a break.”

Lindsey Boerma and Rebecca Kaplan contributed

April 5th Memo

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