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Will Santorum call it quits before Pennsylvania?

Rumors from GOP elites and media commentators calling for campaign ends first emerged against Cain, then Perry and Bachman, then Gingrich (unsuccessfully), and now appear to be growing towards the candidate who has been GOP primary front-runner Mitt Romney's toughest competition: Rick Santorum. The Hill reports that if Santorum loses his confidence about winning his home state, he may drop out sooner than later:

"Santorum is notoriously strong-willed, and those close to him say that party elders will not be able to convince him to exit the race if he thinks he has a shot at the Republican nomination.

But one of Santorum’s close friends told The Hill that while the former Pennsylvania senator remains confident about winning his home state and using that to build May momentum, if that confidence falters, he might exit the race. Pennsylvania state Sen. Jake Corman (R), a longtime friend of Santorum and his family, said if it appeared Santorum wasn’t going to win the state, the former senator could drop his campaign.

'He’s a realist; he doesn’t have his head in the clouds,' Corman told The Hill. 'As long as he sees a pathway to the nomination he’s going to stay in it, but he won’t stay in it to prove a point. If he gets to the point where he doesn’t think he’ll be the nominee, he’ll get out.'”

[...]

“'If he loses Pennsylvania twice, that’s going to really hobble him in the future. That’d be very hard to live down,' said Kirsten Fedewa, Mike Huckabee’s 2008 communications director.

Fedewa speculated that Santorum may be encountering what Huckabee faced near the end of his campaign.

'There’s a point on the campaign trail where you start seeing diminishing returns, thinner crowds, you’re not getting the big boost on your website fundraising, the enthusiasm factor is dying down,” she said. “He’s going to be feeling it on the stump and seeing the impact on his campaign. He’s an anti-establishment candidate, so what the establishment does or doesn't do isn’t going to persuade him — but when he sees the intensity factor waning, that’s going to weigh heavily.'”

Santorum represented Pennsylvania for 16 years in both the House and Senate, and is currently leading Romney by over 6 points among Republicans in the most recent Keystone State polling. However, Santorum was blown out in his last state-wide election and the demographics of Pennsylvania are much closer in resemblance to the states where Romney has thrived and Santorum has struggled during this primary election. Given the emphasis on the importance of winning in your home state that Santorum lobbied against Gingrich before Georgia, and Romney before Michigan, it could be a colossal setback in the career reinvigorating momentum that Santorum has earned in 2012, if he were to be embarrassed in the Pennsylvania primary. After Romney's hat trick last night all but securing the election, many have asked what's it worth to Santorum to stick around with so much lose and little to gain in Pennsylvania.

One last thing…
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