Rick Santorum announced Tuesday that he is suspending his presidential campaign, all but bringing to a close the 2012 GOP presidential contest and effectively handing the nomination to Mitt Romney.
“We made a decision over the weekend that, while this presidential race for us is over — for me — and we will suspend our campaign effective today, we are not done fighting,” Santorum said at a campaign event in Gettysburg, Pa., the site of the historic and pivotal Civil War battle.
The former Pennsylvania senator had been Romney’s top opponent, but he suffered a trio of defeats last week in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia, and over the weekend his daughter, Bella, was hospitalized for the second time this campaign due to complications from a rare genetic disorder.
In announcing his decision, Santorum said Bella’s condition caused him to reconsider his campaign but that she “is a fighter and doing extraordinarily well.”
He did not endorse or urge the delegates that he has won to support another candidate, but spokesman Hogan Gidley told MSNBC that the Romney campaign has requested a meeting about an endorsement, which he said Santorum is “open” to.
Santorum is currently second in the delegate race, but he would have to win upwards of three-fourths of the remaining delegates in order to secure the nomination.
Instead, he seemed to be hoping that Romney would fall short of the delegate threshold and that he could snatch the nomination at the Republican National Convention in August.
Santorum called Romney before his announcement Tuesday to inform him of his decision to drop out, according to a Romney campaign official.
“This race was as improbable as any race you’ll ever see for president,” Santorum said.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul remain in the campaign, but neither has shown the ability to be a consistent alternative to Romney. Gingrich, in particular, has seen his campaign hit a rough patch of late. He’s finished fourth in the last two major contests and revealed over the weekend that his campaign was $4.5 million in debt.
Santorum’s exit virtually assures that Romney will secure the Republican Party’s nomination, though he so far has secured only about 60 percent of the delegates that he needs.
In a statement, Romney congratulated his opponent.
“Sen. Santorum is an able and worthy competitor, and I congratulate him on the campaign he ran,” Romney said. “He has proven himself to be an important voice in our party and in the nation. We both recognize that what is most important is putting the failures of the last three years behind us and setting America back on the path to prosperity.”
Republican leaders in recent weeks have been slowly coalescing around Romney, calling for an end to an increasingly arduous campaign that some say threatens the party’s chances in November.
That trend continued Tuesday, with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad endorsing Romney shortly before Santorum’s announcement and Florida Gov. Rick Scott endorsing Romney shortly afterward. (Scott’s endorsement may not help Romney — he’s quite unpopular as governor of a key swing state — but today is a good day for that endorsement to get lost in the news.)
“Mitt Romney will be our party’s nominee and it is critical that all Republicans coalesce behind Gov. Romney and focus on electing him as president so he can put the policies in place to create jobs, turn our economy around and get federal spending under control,” Scott said in a statement.
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll this week showed a majority of Republican-leaning Americans — 52 percent — said Santorum should stay in the campaign, while 43 percent said he should drop out.
By suspending his campaign rather than ending it, Santorum can continue to raise money to retire any remaining debt he might have.
In the end, Santorum won contests in 11 states, but all of his primary victories were relegated to the South, and he failed to win any of a string of primaries in the Midwest in recent weeks.