Santorum Hesitant to Endorse Romney

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By PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rick Santorum wants to ensure the GOP's policy platform represents conservatives' interests. Newt Gingrich wants help retiring his campaign debt and repairing his reputation.

Both Republicans are expected to endorse their former rival Mitt Romney — and signal to their backers to fall in line behind the party's presumptive nominee — but each wants assurances that Romney will deliver for them. Neither is rushing toward the task.

Meanwhile, it doesn't appear that Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is going to go that way. Paul is still in the race and hasn't yet recognized Romney as the party's nominee. The tea party favorite and former Libertarian presidential nominee seems unlikely to endorse given deep differences with Romney on economic and foreign policy issues.

[Photo Gallery: Rick Santorum on the Presidential Campaign Trail.]

Romney plans to meet Santorum on Friday and Gingrich plans to endorse him this week, an end-of-primary dance that happens every four years once the party settles on a nominee.

Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, quit the race April 10 but has stopped short of publicly embracing Romney as the GOP's standard bearer after a bitter primary season that featured Santorum calling Romney "the worst Republican in the country" to run against Obama.

Not long after, Santorum was telling CNN's Piers Morgan about Romney, "It's very clear that he's going to be the Republican nominee and I'm going to be for the Republican nominee and we're going to do everything we can to defeat Barack Obama." Morgan could not goad him into a proper endorsement.

Gingrich all but bowed out last week, saying: "It's clear Romney is the nominee and the focus should be on defeating Obama. We should not focus on defeating ourselves."

He plans to officially end his campaign in the coming days and endorse Romney.

Romney, for his part, has been working to bring the party together after a bruising primary season, and nods from Santorum and Gingrich could help mend those wounds. Both Santorum and Gingrich have fervent followings among conservatives who make up the base of the party and who generally view Romney skeptically because of his positions on a host of issues.

Romney has changed his position on bedrock issues such as abortion and gay rights. He supported the 2008 Wall Street bailout that angered conservatives and paved the way for the rise of the tea party. And he signed a health care overhaul as governor that provided the groundwork for Democrats' national law that requires all Americans to buy insurance or face a fine. Romney's health care overhaul in Massachusetts required health care coverage.

[Read: Consolation Prize: Santorum Heads to Jay Leno Show.]

That's the primary issue Santorum plans to discuss Friday when he meets privately with Romney.

"We want to make sure he doesn't replace it with any kind of mandate," Santorum adviser Hogan Gidley said. He added, "Rick just wants to have a candid, open conversation about making sure the folks in the 11 states that voted for him, and the conservative movement, have a voice in the Romney campaign."

Advisers caution that an endorsement — or a public appearance for that matter — is unlikely to immediately follow Santorum's private meeting with Romney.

Santorum is in no rush to rally to Romney's side. People close to Santorum said deep resentment remains between the men. But he also recognizes he risks looking like a sore loser and is expected to eventually support Romney.

Even so, key members of Santorum's team have rallied behind Romney in recent weeks. Mike Biundo, Santorum's former campaign manager, signed on with the Romney campaign in Boston to lead outreach to conservatives. Foster Friess, the driving force behind a pro-Santorum super PAC that kept his presidential ambitions afloat, has agreed to rejoin Romney's camp.

For Santorum, there are political considerations if he is to keep the door open to a future presidential run. He has tremendous sway among conservatives, and is mindful of his personal political brand. Embracing a candidate whom some conservatives don't trust could backfire in the long run because many of Santorum's supporters voted for him in hopes of preventing Romney from winning.