Different paths take Santorum to Va., Romney across Pa.

Posted: April 05, 2012

Rick Santorum met Thursday with conservative leaders in Virginia to brainstorm possible paths forward in the Republican presidential race, as Mitt Romney cruised across Pennsylvania with a presumptive nominee's focus on the general election.

For Santorum, the April 24 primary here looms as a make-or-break moment after he lost three states Tuesday to Romney. Two new polls showed Santorum at risk of losing the popular vote in the state he represented in Congress for 16 years.

During a 15-minute morning stop in Harrisburg to tour his new campaign headquarters, Romney did not mention Santorum and barely acknowledged a primary. Instead, he fast-forwarded to the fall, blasting President Obama's stewardship of the economy.

"I will win Pennsylvania in November," Romney told cheering supporters gathered on the rooftop of an office building in the capital.

Facing a crescendo of calls for him to withdraw from the race, Santorum sat down with a group of conservative-movement icons, led by Richard A. Viguerie and Rebecca Hagelin - at the activists' request - to discuss a late push to block Romney's path.

"In my mind, the number-one problem is that the Santorum campaign has, to a large extent, lost control of the narrative," Viguerie, a pioneer of political direct mail, said later in an interview. "Romney with all his money, the Republican establishment, and the mainstream media are putting the story out there that the race is over, and we have to figure out how to go over their heads."

The idea of Santorum's dropping out "was not on the agenda, I can assure you," Viguerie said, predicting "imaginative and bold" changes in the campaign's approach. He did not elaborate.

"I don't want to blow smoke. We're not immune to the challenge in front of us," Viguerie said. "It's going to be a battle, but we see a path."

In Harrisburg, Romney attacked Obama for creating a "government-centered society," citing the administration's health-care policy and regulations that he said impede the kind of robust energy production that would lower the price of gasoline and help the economic recovery. He also promised to cut and cap federal spending.

"You go around the country and you see people who are discouraged, but they haven't given up, they haven't given up on America or given up on themselves or their friends, but they sure have given up on this president," Romney said. "They want to see . . . someone leading the country, someone who understands how the economy works so we can get the economy working for American people."

From there, Romney's entourage headed up to Marcellus Shale territory. At a Tunkhannock company that supplies water for the hydrofracturing process natural-gas drillers use, Romney assailed Obama as an "anti-energy president." Wyoming County, in the mountains around Wilkes-Barre, is among those enjoying an economic boon from drilling in the shale.

"Now this president has eight different agencies trying to fight their way to become regulators of the gas extraction technology known as fracking," Romney said. "And the intent, of course, is to slow down the development of our own resources."

For Santorum, who is spending the Easter weekend with his family, the Pennsylvania vote has become critical. His strategy depends on building momentum from a victory here and finding success in a series of May contests, including Texas, North Carolina and Arkansas, that are more friendly to his brand of conservatism.

Yet Romney has enough of a lead in delegates that by the Associated Press' count, Santorum would need to win 80 percent of the delegates still at stake to win the nomination. That is all but impossible with most states awarding delegates proportionally. Santorum's hope is to block Romney from reaching the 1,144 needed to nominate, leading to a contested convention - a difficult task.

"The media's delegate math is wrong," John Yob, the Santorum campaign's delegate expert, wrote in a memo released to reporters Thursday evening. The memo contends, among other things, that Florida, Arizona, and Puerto Rico will be penalized for moving their contests ahead in the calendar, resulting in fewer delegates being seated that are now credited to Romney. It also says Texas is preparing to change its May primary to winner-take-all, which could help Santorum.

But first he needs to win his home state, where a new Public Policy Polling survey of likely GOP primary voters found Romney leading him by 42 percent to 37 percent - representing a 23-point swing in the month since the firm's previous poll. A separate Rasmussen Reports poll had Santorum holding onto a 42-38 lead.

Jeff Coleman, a Harrisburg-based political consultant, warned against underestimating his fellow Santorum supporters, saying they had "passion over inevitability" and would outwork the Romney troops as the primary nears.

"They are not going door-to-door - they probably aren't even wearing bumper stickers," Coleman said of Romney's backers. "It's a small infrastructure of Republican elite who haven't been in the field in a decade or so."


Contact Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com or on Twitter @tomfitzgerald. Read his blog, "The Big Tent," at www.philly.com/bigtent.

Laura Olson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contributed to this article.

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