Asked by a pack of reporters in Illinois on March 19 if he had plans to quit the GOP presidential race, Rick Santorum didn't mince words.
"Did I give anybody the impression that I'm getting out of this race anytime soon?" he said with a look that was half grin and half grimace. "I'm not too sure you guys are quite getting the flow of this yet. Just hang in there with us, OK? We'll be around for a while."
Santorum has exceeded expectations throughout this nominating fight. He has won over many of the Republican Party's core supporters through a campaign that has featured frequent appearances at both churches and Christian schools where Santorum, a Catholic, speaks openly about his faith.
But Santorum needs one key ingredient if he wants to continue pressing frontrunner Mitt Romney into this spring and beyond. He may have recently argued that "the issue in this race is not the economy," but the future of his candidacy is all about campaign capital.
"He doesn't have to have Romney-type money, but he needs a lot more money than he has raised so far," said Richard Viguerie, a veteran political activist who organized a recent fundraiser for Santorum that brought in pledges totaling $1.8 million. "Romney outspent Santorum 21 to 1 in the Chicago area, so that is just a huge obstacle to overcome."
Santorum collected $9 million in February, his best month, according to new Federal Election Commission reports. That put Santorum second behind the $11.5 million Romney raised that month, well ahead of rivals Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich's February totals. Gingrich is carrying a debt of $1.55 million, signaling that his campaign may be running on fumes.
Still, the $7.3 million Romney held in the bank by month's end was nearly $2 million more than the combined campaign accounts of Santorum, Paul, and Gingrich. (Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has stockpiled in his campaign account more than six times the amount of money of the entire Republican field.)
"We feel like, you know, we are up there, running against the machine," said Santorum on Fox News after Romney won Illinois.
Santorum can be spared some organizational expenses by tapping into the network of social conservative groups that coalesced behind him as other candidates exited. This grassroots coalition boasts thousands of passionate members who are experienced with get-out-the-vote efforts.
"That alone is worth tens of millions of dollars," said Viguerie, who argued that the full engagement of social conservatives did not come too late to matter. "Only about half the delegates have been selected, so at the most it is not quite the fifth inning yet. We have a long ways to go."
But while Romney needs to win just under 50 percent of the remaining delegates to get the GOP nomination, Santorum would have to grab more than 80 percent of the available delegates to win.
Santorum's best chance may be setting up a showdown at the party's August national convention by stopping Romney from gaining the 1,144 delegates needed before then.
For that strategy to work, Santorum must win the April 24 contest in his home state of Pennsylvania. Voters there dealt the former Pennsylvania senator an 18-percentage-point defeat the last time he was on the ballot. Maybe that is why Santorum picked Gettysburg, Pa., the site of one of the fiercest battles in military history, for his Illinois concession speech.