National Catholic Register


Santorum Bows Out of Presidential Race

Catholic GOP Hopeful Turns to Family Concerns

BY Joan Frawley Desmond

Register Senior Editor

April 22-May 5, 2012 Issue | Posted 4/13/12 at 3:47 PM


WASHINGTON — Rick Santorum announced April 10 that he was bowing out of the GOP presidential race.
In an emotional, unscripted statement that acknowledged his concerns about the physical health of his young daughter, Bella, and the moral, economic and political health of the nation, Santorum signaled that he had come to terms with his fading chance of capturing the GOP nomination.

The Catholic former Pennsylvania senator acknowledged that “Good Friday was a little bit of a passion for us, with our daughter Bella, who is the joy of our lives, getting unfortunately very sick, and we ended up in the hospital all weekend,” he said. “But I’m here just to report — to start out things — that she is a fighter, and she is doing exceptionally well and is back with us in the family. And we are looking forward to spending a lot of great time with her.”

Those hospital visits, combined with his campaign’s financial struggles and his failure to secure the necessary delegates, led him to take the difficult step of suspending his campaign.

“It did cause us to think. And as the role that we have as parents in her life and with the rest of our family, this was a time for prayer and thought over this past weekend — and just like it was, frankly, when we decided to get into this race,” he continued.

About a year ago, he and his wife, Karen, sat at their kitchen table, considering whether their children could look forward to a bright future. At that time the couple concluded that he should throw his hat into the race, and the entire

Santorum family has played a visible role in his campaign. They stood with him as he made his announcement near Gettysburg, Pa.

“And so, we started out, almost a year ago now, in Somerset, Pa., and I told, well, my story, our story of our family — my grandfather, who came to this country and worked in the coal mines, and my father, who served our country in World War II,” he told a gathering of supporters and journalists. “But, after a while, it became less about my story and more about — what kept us going were your stories, stories of people across America that we had the privilege of getting the chance to know and interact with,” Santorum recalled during the press conference.

“That’s what our campaign was about — about what made us Americans,” he said. “Against all odds, we won 11 states. … We were able to spread that message far and wide across this country, and what we found is that, well, we found that support. I found a deeper love for this country. Every state I went to, and (to) those of you that followed me around, I would say, ‘I really love this state.’ It was a love affair for me, going from state to state and seeing the differences, but seeing the wonderful, wonderful people of this country who care deeply about where this country is going in the future, who care deeply about those who (are) out there paddling alone, who are feeling left behind and, in some respects, feeling hopeless and want to do something.”

He told stories of volunteers who “believed we provided the best opportunity to turn this country around” and of families who worried about loved ones with disabilities, and he concluded that he would fight for the voiceless.

‘Important Voice’
The news saddened supporters who had been energized by Santorum’s passionate advocacy of pro-life issues, religious freedom and traditional marriage — as well as those who shared his concerns about securing the country’s national-security interests.

In recent weeks, many of the candidate’s supporters were heartened by his determination to remain in the race, even when his main rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, was poised to secure the necessary delegates for the Republican presidential nomination.

Newt Gingrich, the trailing GOP presidential hopeful, said April 10 that he would remain in the race. In a statement, he also commended his onetime political rival.

Santorum’s “success is a testament to his tenacity and the power of conservative principles,” said Gingrich, the former House speaker who was blamed by many of Santorum’s supporters for splitting the social-conservative vote and thus increasing Romney’s political lead.

Romney responded to the news with an expression of respect for Santorum as “an able and worthy competitor. … 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.”

Both Gingrich and Romney asked Santorum’s supporters to get on board with their campaigns.

“We know well that only a conservative can protect life, defend the Constitution, restore jobs and growth and return to a balanced budget,” read Gingrich’s statement.

However, most political commentators predict that Romney will likely pull in most of Santorum’s supporters, as the GOP prepares for its convention in Tampa, Fla., this August and unites behind one candidate.

Yet, if Santorum’s announcement did not generate much surprise, it did prompt expressions of respect for his hard-charging effort to garner attention in the early GOP debates and primaries.

Initially, most party insiders and political commentators dismissed Santorum’s decision to challenge Romney, but after mounting an unexpectedly strong challenge to the front-runner, Santorum became a force to be reckoned with, despite his limited funds and staffing.

“Rick Santorum’s departure from the Republican presidential race is hardly a surprise,” noted National Review’s Robert Costa in an April 10 online article. “What’s surprising is that he was even here, in late April, contending for the nomination.”

“After a disastrous 2006 re-election campaign, Santorum largely faded from the national scene,” Costa reported. “He became a Fox News pundit, a Beltway consultant and a low-profile speaker-for-hire. When he announced his quixotic bid last year, no one, outside of a few conservative blogs, paid attention.”

“Eventually, in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, Santorum began to catch fire as Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman and Michele Bachmann fizzled. Quite suddenly, his sweater vest, the Dodge pickup he drove around the state, and his long-winded, peppy town-hall meetings became symbols of an insurgency. The crowds swelled, as did his poll numbers,” Costa wrote.

‘Pro-Life Vote’s Power’
The GOP party leadership feared that Santorum’s stubborn refusal to suspend his presidential bid would delay their effort to unify the party around a single candidate who would take on the incumbent president.

On April 1, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate minority leader, confirmed on CNN’s State of the Union that Romney’s “chances are overwhelming that he will be our nominee. It seems, to me, we’re in the final phases of wrapping up this nomination. And most of the members of the Senate Republican conference are either supporting him, or they have the view that I do: that it’s time to turn our attention to the fall campaign and begin to make the case against the president of the United States.”

Santorum’s decision to close his campaign will advance that urgent goal. But his absence on the campaign trail will be sorely missed by his supporters, and even, perhaps, by his detractors, who have delighted in his occasionally incendiary remarks.

Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List, a political-action group that raises funds for pro-life candidates and had endorsed Santorum’s presidential bid, greeted the news with a mixture of regret and hope.

“If there was ever a doubt about the intensity and power of the pro-life vote, Rick put that to rest. My concern is that pro-life supporters not go back into the closet and that they stay energized and motivated. That is our No. 1 job this year,” Dannenfelser told the Register.

Dannenfelser recalled a number of campaign stops she visited with Santorum. In each case, the strong response he elicited underscored his powerful role as a culture warrior — a strength that many GOP leaders and commentators viewed as a liability in a presidential contest that could be decided by independent voters.

“I remember when we arrived for a debate, and there were all kind of signs supporting him, while others attacked him, saying: ‘Stop the war on women,’” Dannenfelser said. “If there was no real contrast, you wouldn’t have those people out there. He invites conversations about things that people don’t feel like talking about: religious liberty, abortion and marriage.”

She noted that she had just spoken with Santorum and that he planned to keep pro-life concerns front and center throughout the election year and beyond.

Asked if Santorum discussed his future plans with her, Dannenfelser said he only spoke in general terms and did not specify his next steps beyond the campaign season.

“In terms of what else he does, I don’t think he knows. But, before the campaign, he was engaged with projects at the heart of the culture and the family, and that will continue,” she suggested.

More immediately, Santorum has already pledged to throw his weight behind the GOP’s battle for the White House.

In his April 10 announcement, he vowed to work to “defeat Obama,” win back Congress, and make the nation again “that shining city on the hill, a beacon for freedom everywhere.”