Rick Santorum Meets With Conservatives to Reassess Campaign

Politics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 5, 2012   |   1:52PM   |   Washington, DC

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, fresh off defeats in Wisconsin and Maryland and polls showing him likely to lose his home state of Pennsylvania to Mitt Romney, met with conservative leaders today to reassess his campaign.

Santorum, according to a Politico report, huddled in Virginia today with top conservative activists including Richard Viguerie and Rebecca Hagelin to determine a way forward in the presidential race at a time when the delegate math looks daunting for the pro-life former Pennsylvania senator.

The former Pennsylvania senator personally met with a crew of longtime activists and consulted with others over the phone, sources said, as part of a late attempt to unify the right against Mitt Romney. Santorum campaign officials confirmed that the candidate consulted with conservative leaders after a trio of primary losses on Tuesday night sparked a wave of calls for him to exit the race.

Former Family Research Council chief Gary Bauer, who was present at the sit-down with Santorum, called it a “strategy meeting to discuss how Sen. Santorum prevails.”

“I would say the consensus in the room is, we continue to believe that Sen. Santorum has the best message that is most likely in November to be a winning message,” said Bauer, who ran for president himself in 2000. “And so because of that, we want to make sure that we’re doing all the things that need to be done so that he will be successful.”

Asked whether he would characterize the mood as one of optimism or pessimism, Bauer answered: “Realism.”

Brad Mattes, the director of the Life Issues Institute, participated in the phone call and said there is no sign that the campaign is ending.

“On a conference call with Rick Santorum. He says they’re only half-way through the primary season. No sign of giving up,” he said on Twitter. But, earlier in the day, he tweeted, “Is it the end of the trail for Rick Santorum?”

But Richard Land, a prominent social conservative leader who’s neutral in the race, told The Daily:

“Rick needs to make his own decision. But frankly I think it’s better for him to bow out sooner rather than later, certainly before Pennsylvania. This is a guy who has really resurrected himself as a significant figure in conservative politics. So as a friend I would advise him that he should seriously consider withdrawing from the race. If he loses Pennsylvania the knock will forever be that he can’t even win his home state. To lose it or to win by a whisker would hurt his future in a way that withdrawing now would not.”

Meanwhile, Viguerie told Politico the campaign needs something bold to be able to have a path to victory.

“Most of us don’t think we need small course corrections, we need to come up with some big, bold ideas,” Viguerie said. He declined to be more specific but said to expect changes in Santorum’s approach “in the next seven to 10 days.”

“He’s got to get control of the narrative,” said the old conservative warrior. “Right now he doesn’t have control of it and the establishment Republicans and the media are telling everybody it’s over with. That’s the thing you’ve got to deal with. He’s got to get access to a microphone.”

But Viguerie suggested that it may be Pennsylvania or bust for Santorum.

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A Washington Examiner report also suggests Santorum will not leave the race before Pennsylvania. The Washington Examiner’s Charlie Spiering analyzed the delegate math and the upcoming primaries to explain why Santorum might stay in the race.

“As inevitable as Romney’s nomination seems, the convincing delegate count that led to Huckabee’s exit in 2008 does not yet exist,” Spiering wrote in his column today. “In March 2008, delegate-rich states such as Texas, California, and New York had already awarded nearly all their delegates to McCain by the time Huckabee dropped. But this year, the Texas election has been delayed by a redistricting lawsuit to May 29. California’s primary is June 5, and New York’s is on April 24.”

Some pro-life advocates who are behind Santorum say they are going to continue to support him and say his campaign has been beneficial in getting Romney more in tune with pro-life voters.

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, whose group has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to run ads on Santorum’s behalf, said the anti-abortion SBA List would be “all in until the end.” But she acknowledged cash is becoming a consideration.

“We’re in for as long as Rick is,” Dannenfelser said. “We have spent money. In terms of the future, I have to say that it’s getting a little bit tougher, but we’re doing everything we can do with what we have.”

Whether or not Santorum can recover, Dannenfelser said the former Pennsylvania senator made a worthy contribution to the race.

“I think that Romney is a stronger pro-life candidate than [John] McCain was, and I think Santorum has helped make him stronger,” she said.