Santorum Sneaks In Endorsement of Romney

Former GOP rivals find unity, quietly

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Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney neck and neck.

In the dark of night, former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum sent an E-mail out to supporters with his endorsement of Mitt Romney – in the 13th paragraph.

The tepid support offered up by Romney's strongest primary rival, who continued to galvanize blue collar and evangelical Christian voters as the months went on, is emblematic of the endorsements Romney has received from other top Republicans.

From delaying their support – like top Hill Republicans House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – or backing into the endorsement – like Santorum – the GOP elite has had as tough a time getting excited about Romney's candidacy as their voting base.

Santorum's 11 p.m. statement verbalized the fears of many in his party when he described the importance of his meeting with Romney last week in Pittsburgh.

[Read: Obama seeks middle ground on marriage.]

"During our meeting I felt a deep responsibility to assess Gov. Romney's commitment to addressing the issues most important to conservatives as well as his commitment to ensuring our appropriate representation in a Romney administration," Santorum wrote.

For Santorum and other conservatives, Romney's fluidity on social issues has been a source of heartburn. But according to the former Pennsylvania senator, Romney passed the test.

"He clearly understands that having pro-family initiatives are not only the morally and economically the right thing to do, but that the family is the basic building block of our society and must be preserved," Santorum said. "We certainly agree that abortion is wrong and marriage should be between one man and one woman."

The two also agree that Iran should not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon and the need to reduce the deficit and cut federal spending, Santorum said.

[Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.]

Santorum also addressed the issue of healthcare, where he had pointedly criticized Romney, who oversaw the sweeping reforms in Massachusetts as governor that served as a template for the federal law signed by President Obama that is loathed by many.

In a Republican debate in January, Santorum sought to paint the two policies as one and the same.

"You are going to claim Obamacare doesn't work and we should repeal and [Obama] is going to say, 'wait a minute governor, you said it works well in Massachusetts,'" Santorum had argued. "Folks, we can't give this issue away in this election. It is about fundamental freedom."

But Santorum told supporters in his statement he has "no doubt" about Romney's commitment against Obamacare.

"While I had concerns about Gov. Romney making a case as a candidate about fighting against Obamacare, I have no doubt if elected he will work with a Republican Congress to repeal it and replace it with a bottom up, patient- not government-driven system," Santorum said.

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The endorsement of intraparty rivals is a time-honored tradition, but the manner in which it is done can have lasting impacts on the political future of the loser.

Many were not convinced that Hillary Clinton, who bitterly lost the Democratic primary in 2008 to Barack Obama, would offer a humble or sincere enough endorsement to win her a spot in his administration. But the former first lady's heartfelt and passionate speech at the party's convention surpassed many expectations and she ended up with the role as Secretary of State.

So while Santorum's initial endorsement likely leaves much to be desired by Romney's campaign, he still has a chance to earn more kudos if he offers more full-throated support at the GOP convention in Tampa at the end of the summer.

Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at rmetzler@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter.

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