Rick Santorum is on the ropes and risks an ugly beating in Pennsylvania

 
Ewan Watt
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AFTER Rick Santorum won Louisiana’s primary late last month, MSNBC’s David Gregory endeavoured to keep his viewers interested in the Republican race by claiming that the result had officially created “a two-man race.” After Tuesday night, despite their best efforts, not even the media are claiming this race is competitive.

Despite his commanding delegate lead, Mitt Romney had never before enjoyed an election night sweep with more than two states at the polls. However, Tuesday night wasn’t just a three state sweep – it was an 85-6 delegate rout. If Romney didn’t get the “knock-out” blow he was looking for, the former governor has certainly left Santorum staggering around looking for a dignified exit.

On the night, Wisconsin was the big prize. Santorum had banked on a victory in the Badger State to help him maintain some momentum, only to see representative Paul Ryan and senator Ron Johnson endorse Romney days before voters went to the polls. The Republican Party is now well on its way to coalescing around Romney and preparing for November. Others, probably including Ryan, will now have their eye on sharing Romney’s ticket. Tea Party senators Marco Rubio and Mike Lee endorsed the frontrunner after his win in Illinois, as did former President George H. W. Bush and his son, former governor Jeb Bush. Senator Jim DeMint, the founder of the Senate’s Tea Party caucus, didn’t go as far as to give an endorsement, but encouraged Romney’s rivals to “do a little self-reflection here.”

Santorum’s candidacy has been one of the most astonishing bids in recent presidential history, the story of the quintessential American underdog. People love that. But by continuing to run such aggressive and personal attacks against Romney, Santorum also runs the risk of squandering the political capital that he’s accumulated during the course of this race. By staying in, he is not only delaying the inevitable, but making the race more costly for Romney and his party. His eye must be on 2016, but right now Santorum is on the cusp of appearing almost Gingrichean in defeat.

In his concession speech on Tuesday night, Santorum pledged to fight on – “it’s only half-time” – and win in his home state of Pennsylvania on 24 April and then win in Texas. But in just two weeks Santorum has seen an 18 point poll lead in Pennsylvania turn into a tie. What’s more, even if Santorum were to eke out a victory in the state’s popular vote, he could easily see a repeat of the 1980 primary between Bush and Ronald Reagan, where the former won on votes, but the latter won on delegates. The Pennsylvania primary is a beauty contest, with the state party machine largely deciding who to allocate its delegates to. And these delegates will likely go to the presumptive nominee.

Ewan Watt is a Washington DC-based consultant. You can follow him on @ewancwatt