Super Tuesday failed to provide its traditional knockout blow for any of the four remaining Republican presidential candidates.
Pennsylvania is one of the few primary states left that could land a decisive blow in the race for the nomination.
If Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, fails to win his home state’s April 24 primary, it would be hard for him to soldier on, said political strategists, campaign experts and one GOP presidential candidate.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has repeatedly argued in recent months that a home state loss for any of the White House hopefuls would produce a “very, very badly weakened candidacy.”
“I think it is extraordinarily important to carry your home state,” Gingrich told Fox News last month. “It has all sorts of underlying impact if you don’t.”
Muhlenberg College pollster Chris Borick said a home state loss would be more then embarrassing for Santorum. “It would really be a death blow,” Borick said.
And one Harrisburg GOP consultant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Santorum’s argument that he can carry conservative Democrats in a general election would be upended with a Pennsylvania primary loss.
“That could be his Waterloo,” the consultant said. “If I were advising [GOP front-runner] Mitt Romney, I’d go after him in Pennsylvania because it completely destroys his argument.”
But David Urban, a prominent Washington Republican consultant and Santorum adviser, said his candidate will run all the way to the Aug. 27 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
“I would expect Rick Santorum to be in this race until Tampa and playing a role at the convention in a large fashion,” Urban said. “He will have a voice and a large role to play in how this all ends up.”
One voice Pennsylvania politicos are waiting to hear from in the GOP presidential conversation is Gov. Tom Corbett’s.
Though Corbett has stayed on the sidelines so far, Harrisburg has been awash with rumors as to which candidate he will endorse.
The strongest speculation has been that Corbett was remaining neutral out of respect to native son and past political ally Santorum. Once Santorum dropped out of the race, so the rumor goes, Corbett would assume the mantle of Pennsylvania campaign chairman for Romney.
But within the last several days, the hottest gossip has been that Corbett would endorse Santorum days before the state primary.
“That’s all interesting speculation, but he’s keeping his counsel close, and as [the primary] draws closer, I’m sure he’ll let his thoughts be known,” Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said.
Brian Nutt, who ran Corbett’s gubernatorial campaign, said the governor has been wooed by all the GOP candidates for months but has not decided if he’ll endorse.
“The only advice I gave him was that as long as Rick was in, we should see how it goes,” Nutt said. “Rick Santorum was a huge supporter. Obviously there’s the personal, professional and political relationship with Sen. Santorum. … Romney had a fundraiser for the governor in 2010 right here in Harrisburg.”
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has also remained neutral, but past political differences make a Santorum endorsement highly unlikely.