GETTYSBURG, Pa. — The hotel where Rick Santorum held his Tuesday election-night party is located at One Lincoln Square, and to this Gettysburg address the former Pennsylvania senator came to rally his forces for the fight ahead.
There was discouraging news from the battlefield in Illinois, where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was on his way to a double-digit victory, 47 percent to 35 percent for Santorum. Yet the folks who crowded into the ballroom of the Gettysburg Hotel heard a confident speech from a cheerful candidate, who took the stage to the tune of an upbeat campaign song, “Game On,” and stood in front a banner with a one-word slogan, “Freedom,” while his supporters applauded.
Referring to results of the Illinois primary, Santorum said, “We’re going to win downstate, we’re going to win central Illinois, we’re going to win western Illinois. We won the areas that conservatives and Republicans populate. We’re very happy about that and we’re happy about the delegates we’re going to get, too.”
The home-state crowd cheered, even knowing that Romney’s Illinois win had once more widened the frontrunner’s lead in the delegate count. According to the Associated Press, Romney has now won 563 delegates — more than half the 1,144 needed to clinch the Republican nomination — against 263 for Santorum. Still, Santorum smiled and said how great it was to be back home in Pennsylvania, and the crowd cheered some more.
He actually had reason to smile and his supporters had reason to cheer, because the result in Illinois brought Santorum closer to what he has long said was his objective — a one-on-one showdown with Romney. If Santorum can keep up his long uphill fight a little while longer, he is soon likely to be the last conservative in the field against his more moderate rival.
Newt Gingrich finished fourth in Illinois, just as he had previously finished fourth in Minnesota, Maine, Michigan, Washington State, Alaska, North Dakota, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Wyoming. However, the former House Speaker’s prospects suffered a more damaging blow Tuesday when his monthly financial report to the Federal Election Commission showed that his campaign is essentially bankrupt. Gingrich’s fundraising evidently fell off the table after his Jan. 31 defeat in the Florida primary. Gingrich raised just $2.6 million in February (less than Texas Rep. Ron Paul), spent $2.9 million and entered March with a cash-on-hand total smaller than Newt’s campaign debt. By comparison, Santorum’s campaign raised $9 million in February, spent $7.9 million and began March with about a $1.7 million net balance ($2.6 million cash on hand, against about $900,000 in debt).
Even after losing Alabama and Mississippi to Santorum last week, Newt had vowed to continue his campaign “all the way to Tampa,” but with money running out, it’s difficult to imagine how Gingrich can keep going much longer. Louisiana’s primary is Saturday, and the two most recent polls there show Gingrich running third. Another loss in the Deep South would end whatever faint prospect for Newt’s resuscitation remains but, given that he published a Monday column at Red State harshly critical of Santorum’s record, Gingrich evidently has no intention of throwing his support to the Pennsylvanian in an effort to stop Romney.
With or without Gingrich’s support, Santorum is positioned to keep fighting Romney well into May. After Saturday’s primary in Louisiana, with 46 delegates at stake, another nine days will elapse before primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland, and the District of Columbia on April 3. Then a three-week interval follows before primaries April 24 in Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, New York, and Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania. While it is unlikely Santorum will close the delegate gap with Romney over the course of the next month, it is equally unlikely that Romney can reach the “magic number” of 1,144 delegates in April. Thus, Santorum could keep up his campaign into May, where such conservative bastions as Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, and delegate-rich Texas fill the calendar of primaries.
Romney’s campaign has spent the past two weeks asserting that their advantage in the delegate count makes their candidate the “inevitable” nominee, but Santorum seemed undaunted Tuesday night. “We don’t want to be that generation that lost the torch of freedom.… That’s why we must go out and fight this fight,” Santorum said, urging his listeners to join him in the fight. “We’re going to head to Louisiana from here. We’re feeling very, very good about winning Louisiana on Saturday.… And then we’re going to be back here in Pennsylvania, and we’re going to pick up a whole boatload of delegates and close this gap and on to victory!”
As speeches go, it was not the most memorable ever made in Gettysburg, but in 1863, Abraham Lincoln spoke after the battle was over. For Santorum, the battle goes on.