Note: Forgive this gonzo journalistic exercise as I pen this column from the first person, as I was personally involved in the Santorum campaign as a state director in the Louisiana effort.
Early Tuesday afternoon I received an e-mail from the Santorum campaign informing me of that an impromptu conference call was slated with less than fifteen minutes warning.
Having opened the e-mail late, I got on the conference call a bit tardy though was told they were waiting for Rick to join in.
At this point I assumed the candidate was going to briefly breakdown the state of the campaign and give his state leaders a pep talk about going forward.
Instead Rick opened up with a thank you for all of our hard work before then stating that in a few minutes he was going to announce the suspension of his presidential campaign.
At that point I logged on to the Drudge Report (or as I called it the Romney Report) to see if I missed some pretty big news but there was no mention of Santorum’s imminent departure, just a small image of the candidate with the words “staying in” (or something along those lines) below it.
I don’t recall whatever else the candidate said as I was somewhat stunned by the news, though appreciative that he had the courtesy to personally brief his staff and state leaders about the development before hearing it on the news.
That Santorum was not going to be the party nominee was obvious for a while, even amongst his supporters.
The social conservative’s best hope of knocking off former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was missed in the Michigan primary. A Santorum triumph over Romney in the most important of his several “home states” would have been a mortal blow to the frontrunner.
That’s not to say a Santorum win in Michigan would have meant he would have been nominated, but it would have virtually ended any hope of Romney serving as the party’s standard bearer in the general election.
A new candidate would have emerged from the establishment fold to challenge Santorum, though the Pennsylvanian would have had the upper hand.
After Michigan, the expectations game worked against Santorum. The story wasn’t that Santorum came close to an unthinkable upset against Romney in Michigan but that the latter had rallied from an absurdly large polling deficit to win.
To paraphrase Romney’s election night speech, he truly did win by enough.
Ohio became the next battleground.
Once again, Santorum entered the contest with poll numbers in the political stratosphere before the Romney Super PAC and a few rhetorical gaffes brought him back down to earth and as the last numbers came in from Cincinnati and Cleveland once again below Romney, even if by a hair.
After Ohio, it was apparent that the new objective was not to surpass Romney in the delegate count but to deny him a majority going into the convention and trying his luck appealing directly to the delegates (a novelty in this political era).
From that point, Santorum had to focus his energies and resources finishing off not Romney but former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to consolidate the split conservative vote.
Had Santorum won in Ohio and Michigan, Mississippi and Alabama would not have been the close calls they were.
On the night of the Deep South primary, I was in the war room with Santorum observing his facial expressions change with the numbers in Mississippi. When his lead was razor thin, I was somewhat amused to see him lament about the possibility of “another Ohio” to which I blurted out “a 1500 lead with 20% still out is a win. There is no Cuyahoga County in Mississippi”.
I don’t recall the candidate being amused by my wisecrack though my familiarity with the Magnolia State proved accurate.
Louisiana was the high water mark of the Santorum effort. He crushed both Romney and Gingrich, finally won the Catholic vote by a big margin and carried 63 out of Louisiana’s 64 parishes, losing only Orleans Parish.
The must win state for Santorum wasn’t Pennsylvania but Wisconsin. A victory in Wisconsin would have made a win in Pennsylvania beyond Romney’s reach.
And as Wisconsin went, so went Santorum’s capacity to conduct a viable campaign in an expensive media state such as Pennsylvania.
Though I have supported Rick Santorum since August of last year and have spent countless hours working on the Louisiana primary and caucuses, I don’t blame Rick for ending his bid.
At best a win in Pennsylvania would have caused him to take on considerable campaign debt that would have handicapped his efforts elsewhere. At worst, Santorum would have suffered the indignity of being rejected once again by Keystone State voters while piling up expenses.
. Too many politicians often let their ambitions delude them into spending beyond their means with consequences that linger long after the election.
Dropping out was the responsible thing to do for him and his family.
And with Gingrich running a scaled down though active campaign, the termination of the Santorum bid does not deprive conservative voters an alternative in the caucuses and primaries remaining on the calendar.
Rick Santorum wasn’t my first choice, though I got behind his candidacy earlier than most.
After ex-Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty fell prey to the Ames Straw Poll, I believed that Santorum was the most viable conservative standing even though he was polling 1% nationally when I cast my lot with him.
The long odds never bothered me as I don’t bet on candidates, I believe in them.
And I did not want to make the same mistake my candidate made four years ago when he “settled” on Romney.
It was apparent from the beginning that the Massachusetts moderate was going to be the party nominee, though Romney wasn’t going to get it with my vote.
Santorum’s candidacy was a reflection of the frustration that conservatives have with the Republican Party. And though the candidate has left the stage, I suspect many of his votes will transfer over to either Gingrich or Texas US Representative Ron Paul.
Romney may have lost an opponent, the court is out as to whether he gains many new supporters.
In conclusion, I’d like to thank Rick and his family for enduring those many lonely nights in Pizza Barns across Iowa in October and November while the party base hopped from one flavor of the month to the next.
It could not have been easy to believe that there would be a day when the dozens that would show up to hear his message would eventually grow to hundreds.
As a conservative I am grateful for the sacrifices he and his family made to give us a real choice.
As an individual, I am grateful that I was allowed to be a part of a campaign.
Though it wasn’t always a pleasure, it truly was an honor.