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Will Santorum surge — or sink — in Pennsylvania?

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, April 7, 2012 1:56 EDT
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Santorum via AFP
 
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The rally here began — as most Rick Santorum campaign events do — with a prayer.

But barring divine intervention, it will take a change of heart by much of Pennsylvania’s diverse electorate to help the religious arch-conservative win his home state and stay in the hunt for the Republican presidential nomination.

Santorum, trailing a distant second in the battle to see who will challenge President Barack Obama in November, will spend most of the next three weeks criss-crossing Pennsylvania after this weekend’s Easter break.

He readily admits “we have to win here” on April 24 in order to keep going.

If he prevails it would provide momentum into more favorable contests in May, but if he loses it would likely be the end of his candidacy.

“Pennsylvania can be a new starting point for Rick, and it can take him through other states like Texas,” state Senator John Eichelberger told AFP at Wednesday’s rally in the small town of Hollidaysburg.

“It’s going to be much more difficult for him to continue if he doesn’t win Pennsylvania.”

Santorum served 12 years in the US Senate but suffered a crushing defeat in 2006. Voters were turned off by his aggressive politics and close alignment to unpopular president George W. Bush, and felt betrayed by Santorum’s support for a more liberal senator.

“When your core support base sits it out, it’s hard to win, because this is a Democrat-majority state, and we need all the help we can get,” Eichelberger said.

The question is, will the state’s Republican voters embrace Santorum again?

Many frustrated with his stance on social issues — he vehemently opposes abortion and homosexuality — believed his political career was over.

But the Republican who personified the rising conservative movement has engineered a remarkable revival, one that has brought him to national prominence again and helped put the culture wars into the political glare.

His call for reducing Washington’s intrusion in the lives of Americans, such as Obama’s two-year-old health care law, is a major plank in his campaign.

“What we need to do is stop believing that government can take care of you, and start liberating people so they can provide for themselves and their families,” he said here.

Yet with frontrunner Mitt Romney enjoying a commanding lead in the delegates race that determines the nominee, the party establishment is urging Santorum to fold up his tent.

He’s shown no willingness to do so, but a close friend told The Hill newspaper on Thursday that Santorum may indeed drop out rather than risk losing Pennsylvania.

“He’s a realist,” Republican state senator Jake Corman told the newspaper. “If he gets to the point where he doesn’t think he’ll be the nominee, he’ll get out.”

Fellow senator Eichelberger stressed that while Santorum has a “decided edge” in Pennsylvania, Romney’s money advantage will take a toll.

“If Rick thinks he can’t generate enough funding to stay competitive, what Jake Corman said makes sense,” he added.

US congressman Bill Shuster, one of several prominent Pennsylvanians supporting Romney, told AFP “it’s only a matter of time” before Romney wins the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

He believes Santorum will do well in the state, but he wouldn’t predict whether Santorum can bounce back from his 2006 defeat.

“I can give you the answer on April 25, the day after the election.”

Santorum remains a polarizing figure, and it’s clear he would have a hard time winning Pennsylvania — which Obama won easily in 2008 — in the general election.

Andrew Katz, president of the Blair County chapter of the Tea Party movement to reduce taxes and the size of government, is no fan, saying “I don’t think he has the skill to right what is wrong here.”

Santorum has backing in rural and blue-collar areas of the state. Retiree Theresa Milazzo, sitting for lunch at a Chambersburg diner, said she supported him as a senator, and will do so again.

“I like what he stands for. He seems very honest and to the point,” she said.

Carolyn Toth said she was thrilled Santorum was bringing Christian values to the fore.

“America has to return to God for us to maintain anything, and he is the one candidate that keeps saying that,” she said at the rally.

Minutes earlier, Blair County commissioner Terry Tomacetti dismissed arguments that Santorum should step aside before Pennsylvania.

“Why is there such a rush to conclude the essence of democracy?” he asked. “That’s not the American way.”

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
 
 
 
 
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