WASHINGTON, April 11 (BSS/AFP) - Mitt Romney on Tuesday effectively won the Republican Party crown to challenge President Barack Obama in November elections, as chief rival Rick Santorum dropped his long-shot White House bid.
"This presidential race is over for me," Santorum told reporters in Gettysburg, in his home state of Pennsylvania.
Despite an upset victory in the first Republican nominating contest in Iowa in January that led to a surprising showing with victories in 10 more states, Santorum failed to build sufficient momentum to derail frontrunner Romney.
He trailed a distant second in the battle to be the party's contender aiming to thwart Obama's hopes of a second term, outspent by Romney's deep war chest and out-organized by an extensive grassroots network.
Last weekend, the former Pennsylvania senator halted
campaigning for four days after his youngest daughter, Bella, who
suffers from a rare genetic disorder, was hospitalized again.
Santorum acknowledged it had been a "difficult weekend," and
said while Bella was getting better, "it did cause us to think."
"While this presidential race is over for me and we will
suspend our campaign effective today, we are not done fighting,"
he said as he pledged to do what he can to help defeat the
Democratic incumbent in November.
"We're going to continue to fight for the Americans who stood
up and gave us that air under our wings that allowed us to
accomplish things that no political expert would have ever
In his speech, Santorum did not once mention Romney, who will
clearly need Santorum's backing if he is to corral the support of
evangelical Christians and core conservative voters.
But Santorum spokeswoman Alice Stewart told CNN the pair had
a "nice conversation" earlier today, and would have "another
conversation in the next few days and weeks."
The two have "great mutual respect for each other," she said,
while acknowledging that "politically, they disagree on some of
the key issues."
Santorum quit the race just two weeks before a primary vote
in Pennsylvania, amid polls showing he could lose the state to
Santorum had already suffered a massive home defeat in 2006,
when he was bounced out of the US Senate by a Democratic
challenger, and losing in Pennsylvania a second time would be a
disaster for the political brand of a man many experts have said
could be laying the groundwork for another run in 2016.
With Romney enjoying a commanding lead in the delegates race
that determines the nominee, the Republican establishment had
been urging Santorum to step aside and allow the party to
coalesce around a single candidate.
Romney swiftly congratulated Santorum for being "an able and
worthy competitor" and for the campaign he had run.
"He has proven himself to be an important voice in our party
and in the nation," Romney added.
The Republican National Committee called Santorum's decision
to drop out "commendable."
Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina meanwhile used the
opportunity to take aim at Romney, saying: "It's no surprise that
Mitt Romney finally was able to grind down his opponents under an
avalanche of negative ads."
A devout Roman Catholic, Santorum's far-right views on
religion, women and marriage played well with the conservative
base, but were alienating the all-important voting bloc of
moderates and independents.
The 53-year-old was a virtual unknown nationally when he
first threw his hat into the Republican ring in June.
Despite being written off early, Santorum had improbable
successes in the US South and Midwest.
"It was a love affair for me going from state to state," he
His pro-life, anti-contraception, anti-gay-marriage message
gained traction with heartland evangelicals deeply skeptical of
Romney, who they view as a moderate disguised in conservative
Romney, the millionaire ex-governor of liberal leaning
Massachusetts, has also stirred controversy, with many saying he
is out of touch with ordinary people struggling in the tough
And Santorum was criticized for dwelling on contentious
social issues at a time of economic hardship.
Pressure will now build on former House speaker Newt Gingrich
to drop out and let the party coalesce around Romney.
But Gingrich insisted he will take his campaign to August's
Republican national convention despite little to no chance of
winning enough delegates.
"I am committed to staying in this race all the way to Tampa
so that the conservative movement has a real choice," said
Gingrich, who wasted no time in urging Santorum supporters to
Gingrich, who has won two contests, acknowledged Sunday that
Romney was his party's "most likely" nominee and pledged to
support him if Romney gets the 1,144 delegates to clinch the
Libertarian Texas congressman Ron Paul also issued a
statement saying he planned to "continue running hard" until the
party convention in Tampa.