Senator Rick Santorum’s announcement today that he is exiting the Presidential race marks the end of the primary season and the beginning of the GOP’s full focus on President Barack Obama.
Whether or not you agree with him (and I mostly do not) you have to give him credit for surprising everyone by lasting this long. The National Journal’s Jim Tankersley today tweeted that it was akin to an 11-seed making the NCAA Final Four. While Romney had the money and the infrastructure, Santorum was getting by on a shoestring budget with very little staff. He won Iowa through sheer hard work, visiting the state’s 99 counties in a pickup truck while his rivals traveled with entourages in luxury buses.
But Santorum’s campaign was in debt and his message didn’t resonate outside social conservatives. He also saw a 30-point lead in his home state of Pennsylvania a few weeks ago disappear into a tie with Romney. A loss there on April 24, along with losses in New York, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island would have pushed him out instead of exiting on his own terms.
It’s worth noting that Santorum’s successes came in a year where Republicans didn’t field their first-string team. Governor MItt Romney was the only A-lister who showed up this year and it’s tough to imagine Santorum doing so well in future races where (hopefully) a very deep GOP bench will be in play.
With apologies to Rep. Ron Paul and Speaker Newt Gingrich, who have not been relevant for several weeks (Newt) or at all (Paul), the general election campaign has now begun. Romney has plenty of time to rally the base (recall the Democrats fought into June 2008 to decide on their nominee) and make his case to independents and moderates, whom the President has abandoned with his desperate class warfare strategy.