Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum addresses supporters at a rally at The Ravine in the Town of Bellevue Wisconsin March 24, 2012. Santorum continues a full day of campaign stops in Wisconsin on the day of Louisiana's primary. (DARREN HAUCK/Reuters/DARREN HAUCK/Reuters)
Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum addresses supporters at a rally at The Ravine in the Town of Bellevue Wisconsin March 24, 2012. Santorum continues a full day of campaign stops in Wisconsin on the day of Louisiana's primary. (DARREN HAUCK/Reuters/DARREN HAUCK/Reuters)

How the Santorum campaign laid bare Mitt Romney's weaknesses Add to ...

With Rick Santorum quitting the GOP race, the Romney campaign has now removed the most persistent of challengers and the biggest thorn in its side.

Mr. Santorum, who only days earlier described his leadership bid as entering “halftime” and encouraging his supporters to storm out of the locker room and win back the momentum, was facing a humiliating primary defeat on April 24 in his home state of Pennsylvania.

More related to this story

There, public opinion polls showed that the former Pennsylvania senator, who enjoyed a strong lead over Mitt Romney only a month ago, was now trailing.

Mr. Santorum powered on to centre stage in the Republican leadership on the eve of the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. With little money or organization, he out-campaigned his rivals with a strong finish that was later shown to be a win. The sweater-vest candidate was born.

Mr. Santorum was never going to over take Mitt Romney in the delegate math. His aim was to prevent the Romney campaign from securing the 1,144 delegates it needed to clinch the GOP nomination before the last primary in June. The result would have been a crisis in the Republican Party and the prospect of a brokered convention in August in Tampa Bay.

All along, the Santorum campaign faced a front-runner who was better organized, better financed and backed by the Republican establishment.

“This race was as improbable as anything you’ll ever see,” Mr. Santorum told a news conference this afternoon, surrounded by his family.

With key endorsements for Mr. Romney in recent weeks and a string of Romney primary wins, the narrative once again shifted in this topsy-turvy GOP race to Mr. Romney as the “inevitable” nominee. The Romney campaign refocused its campaign entirely on President Barack Obama with hardly a mention of its GOP rivals.

To some observers, Mr. Santorum was looking irrelevant.

His candidacy, and wins in 11 states – mainly in the south and mid-west – certainly showcased his strength among very conservative, evangelical and often rural voters.

Mr. Santorum’s key moment came ahead of the Feb. 28 Michigan primary, where he was poised to upset Mr. Romney in a state synonymous with the Romney name.

But by cranking up a social-conservative message, Mr. Santorum muddled his potentially effective message to revive American manufacturing. Michigan slipped away. And even with a respectable showing in the Super Tuesday contests on March 6, Mr. Santorum was unable to carry Ohio.

Still, the Santorum candidacy only laid bare Mr. Romney’s weaknesses. Mr. Romney’s health-care law that he enacted as governor of Massachusetts was described by Mr. Santorum as identical to Obamacare.

Mr. Santorum argued on the campaign trail that Republicans needed to choose a “true conservative” who would offer voters a real contrast and alternative to Mr. Obama.

Just two weeks ago, Mr. Santorum charged that Mr. Romney would be the “worst Republican” in the country to go up against Mr. Obama. It was a sharp attack that tapped in to the GOP base and its unease with the Romney candidacy.

But Mr. Santorum’s attacks against the Romney campaign do not tell the full story of his candidacy.

The grandson of an Italian immigrant who worked in the coal mines, and the son of a Second World War veteran, Mr. Santorum conveyed a personal narrative that resonated with Republican voters.

If Mr. Romney’s comments about being friends with NFL team owners, or his wife owning two Cadillacs, made him appear to be out of touch with voters, Mr. Santorum displayed a personal touch on the campaign trail that continues to elude the former governor.

Mr. Santorum cancelled campaign events after his three-year-old daughter, Bella, who suffers from a rare genetic condition called Trisomy 18, was admitted to hospital last Friday.

It was not the first time that Mr. Santorum has had to attend to the struggles of his daughter. Speaking of a “difficult weekend,” Mr. Santorum said, “It did pause us to think of the role we have as parents.”

Mr. Santorum did not immediately endorse Mr. Romney, although in recent weeks he did tell a Christian television network that he would consider being the vice-presidential candidate on a Romney ticket.

Would Mitt Romney consider it? Not likely.

Follow on Twitter: @affanchowdhry

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories