Santorum admits end of his Republican presidential campaign might be near

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican presidential candidate, speaks Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, at the New Hampshire Republican Party summit in Nashua, N.H.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican presidential candidate, speaks Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, at the New Hampshire Republican Party summit in Nashua, N.H.
Photo by AP
| Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, 9:03 p.m.

URBANDALE, Iowa — Four years ago, Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses and ended up as the final challenger against Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination.

But Sunday, with a week to go before this year's Iowa caucuses, he stands at just 1.2 percent in the Real-ClearPolitics average of recent statewide polls, the 11th among 11 candidates.

In an impromptu interview with USA Today and The Des Moines Register after attending services at New Hope Assembly of God here, he acknowledged what he previously has refused to discuss: It may soon be time for him to think about folding his campaign.

“If the people of Iowa put their faith in me, we're going to continue on,” he said. “Given the circumstances of this race, I don't think we have to win. We just have to finish ahead of the pack that's sitting in single digits right now. I think we're going to come out with a lot of wind at our back.”

And if that doesn't happen?

“You reach a point when you realize that you aren't going to accomplish what you're going to accomplish and you have to look out for the greater good,” he responded. “And I've always believed in the greater good. I'm a person who believes in a cause and trying to make this country better, not about Rick Santorum and my own aggrandizement.

“I'll go through that process, whether it's after Iowa or whether it's after Super Tuesday or whenever it's happening. We'll go through that process and determine if we have a pathway to get there, and if we believe we do, trust me, no one will fight harder, no one will work longer.

“And if we don't, you have to work out what's in the best interest of our country.”

Some political analysts have counted Santorum out. Because of his low poll standings, he has yet to make it to the main stage for the Republican debates — a situation he decries as unfair.

“The media have decided they're going to segregate the race,” he said. As a result, he said, supporters from his 2012 bid sometimes tell him they didn't realize he was running this time.

But for any candidate, especially one who came within shouting distance of the nomination last time, it can be hard to admit that the race isn't going to turn in his or her favor in time.

Santorum, 57, has not thrown in the towel. On Saturday, he launched a final campaign swing through the state, with more than 50 events scheduled until the caucuses on Feb. 1. His campaign has announced a “special unveiling” in Iowa City early Monday: He'll don the sweater vest that became his humorous signature in 2012 but had not made an appearance during this race. “Breaking out the heavy artillery,” an aide said.

The rise of outsider candidates, especially billionaire businessman Donald Trump, has shaped a very different contest from four years ago.

“People are frustrated,” Santorum said. “They believe there are a lot of things going on in our country that are very disturbing. And sometimes you look for something, you look for someone who sounds like they're strong and tough. I get that. I respect that. Donald Trump is very forceful. I just caution everybody ... look at what they believe in. Look at how long they've believed it.”

At some point, Santorum predicted, “the novelty wears off (and) they're going to be looking for an alternative.”

But perhaps, he admits, not soon enough for him.

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