Citing his 3-year-old daughter's struggles with a terminal illness, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum dropped out of the Republican presidential primary race Tuesday, effectively securing the GOP nomination for Mitt Romney.
"We were very concerned about our role being the best parents we possibly could to our children," Santorum explained at a press conference in Gettysburg, Pa., with his family by his side. He said he and his wife, Karen, made the decision to withdraw over the weekend, as his daughter Bella was admitted and then released from the hospital.
The youngest of the eight Santorum children, Bella was born with Trisomy 18, a rare genetic disorder that has a very low survival rate. Santorum, a devout Catholic, often told his daughter's story as a way of illustrating the value of every human life.
Bella, who came down with pneumonia on Friday, has been in and out of the hospital during the course of the campaign, and Santorum has canceled events to be with her. In bowing out he said, "Good Friday was a bit of a passion play for us with our daughter Bella," adding that she is now doing "extraordinarily well."
With just a handful of staff and few resources, Santorum won the Iowa caucuses in January, and then went on to win in 10 other state contests.
"This race was as improbable as any race you'll ever see for president," he said Tuesday. But he had about half the delegates Romney had, and he faced the prospect of losing his home state of Pennsylvania in its primary April 24.
Santorum ran as the conservative alternative to Romney, winning an overwhelming majority of the evangelical and pro-life vote. In his speech announcing his withdrawal from the race he did not mention the former Massachusetts governor, but he did focus on the general election, saying he would continue to fight to "defeat President Obama."
Romney has reportedly asked for a sit-down meeting with Santorum to ask for his endorsement. "Sen. Santorum is an able and worthy competitor, and I congratulate him on the campaign he ran," Romney said in a statement.
The Republican nomination process has perhaps felt long, but it is coming to a close months earlier than the Democratic primary race did in 2008. With a shortened primary season, Romney now will be able to save millions of dollars for the general election battle with President Obama.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich technically remains in the race, but he has more campaign debt than delegates. Gingrich insisted Tuesday that he plans to stay in the hunt "all the way to Tampa," the site of the Republican convention in August, to give conservatives a "real choice." Rep. Ron Paul of Texas also remains in the race, but he trails even Gingrich in delegates and hasn't won a single state.
Santorum had a reputation as a firebrand, but he said he felt humbled after his Senate defeat in 2006 (see "Tightrope walker," by Edward Lee Pitts, March 10).
"Losing wasn't the worst thing that ever happened to me," he told WORLD. "I don't think I was as nice of a person as I could have been or as kind to others as I should have been. I think there was a lot of focus on that I was doing important things and just was moving and rushing. I am not going to get in that trap again."