Santorum Vows to Stay in Race—For Now

Romney still hasn't sealed up the GOP nomination.

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The single question everyone still watching the Republican presidential race is asking now is when will Rick Santorum pull the plug?

It's true, both former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul are still—albeit less conspicuously—out campaigning. But thanks to strong delegate pick-ups on Tuesday and top tier endorsements over the last few weeks, there's little doubt Mitt Romney will eventually secure the GOP nomination.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Rick Santorum.]

"We're going through this phase now where the outcome is not really in any doubt," says Dave Karol, a government professor at the University of Maryland. "We don't know exactly what the final score will be but we know who's going to win and they are playing it out."

Santorum has less than half as many delegates as the former Massachusetts governor does in the race for the 1,144 necessary to secure the nomination. He's facing a tough road ahead, with the largely unfriendly territory scheduled to weigh in on April 24, the next day for primary contests – Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

"New York Republicans don't look a whole lot like Alabama Republicans," says Danny Hayes, a political science professor at American University. "Those are all states that have more moderate Republican electorates so if the trend holds, then those are places Romney is likely to do better than Santorum."

The former Pennsylvania senator has performed well so far in Southern states and some parts of the Midwest, but he's struggled to broaden his appeal from evangelical Christian, more poor and more rural Republican voters.

Santorum's campaign has vowed to stay in through the Keystone State contest where the candidate could pick up a sizeable number of delegates with a victory. However, that fate is far from certain as recent polling shows that his once healthy lead over Romney has evaporated in his home state. Though Hayes warns even a win in Pennsylvania might not give Santorum the momentum he needs.

[Read Santorum Optimistic About Pennsylvania.]

"The Pennsylvania election, the Santorum campaign will spin that as a victory but it might be a little bit like Georgia for Gingrich; he didn't exactly get a whole lot of credit for winning his home state so the same thing could happen for Santorum," he adds.

A single win in Pennsylvania, and even more assuredly a loss there, in the face of a Romney sweep of the other April 24th contests could mean Santorum ends his quest prior to the Texas showdown scheduled for May 29th.

"Sure he can keep limping along," says Karol. "He's hobbled by the fact that people keep seeing him lose but his own state is coming up, Texas is coming up. These are places where there are a lot of delegates and where he has some hope of winning."

Karol says just because the elder President Bush and some others have begun piling on the endorsements for Romney, it's not surprising and doesn't really do anything to force Santorum out.

"Even assuming Romney sweeps all the delegates he's still hundreds of delegates away," he says. "Santorum said ... when he has the majority [he will] stop. But that's not going to happen tomorrow."

Hayes says even if Santorum's campaign doesn't believe they can really stop Romney it may not matter.

"If they think they can, I think they'll stay in the race as long as possible with the hopes of doing that. If it looks like Romney is about to get a majority, Santorum may bow out at that point," he says. "But who knows, because Gingrich is still in the race, right?"

[Read GOP Voters Few and Far Between in D.C. Primary.]

Meanwhile Matthew Dowd, a Washington political analyst who has worked with Republicans and Democrats, offered his "free advice" to Santorum via Twitter.

"If Santorum goes 0-3 tonight he should schedule a speech by Thursday and bow out before PA. Saves him some capital to use later," he wrote.

Santorum's public schedule has him making appearances in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, including a trip to a bowling alley in Mechanicsburg in the evening. Romney, meanwhile, will spend his morning addressing the Newspaper Association of America in Washington, D.C.—the same audience President Obama had on Tuesday —before shipping up to Pennsylvania.