I'll say this about Rick Santorum: the dude is a true-believer. He's putting it all on the line in Pennsylvania. If he doesn't win the Keystone State primary on April 24, his presidential ambitions are dead. Not only for 2012, but for any and all future presidential races.
Consider: Republicans have a tendency, in their presidential politics, to nominate the candidate who is deemed to be "next in line;" the candidate who came up short in the previous cycle. There's plenty of historical evidence.
- In 1976 Ronald Reagan lost the Republican primary to Gerald Ford, but then won the nomination in 1980.
- In 1980 George Bush the Elder lost the Republican primary to Reagan, but then won the nomination in 1988.
- In 1988 Bob Dole lost the Republican primary to Bush the Elder, but then won the nomination in 1992.
- In 2000 John McCain lost the Republican primary to Junior Bush, but then won the nomination in 2008.
- In 2008, Mitt Romney lost the Republican primary to McCain, but now appears to be on the verge of winning the nomination in 2012.
But Santorum could blow it all by losing the primary in Pennsylvania. It's his home state. If he doesn't win his home state (which even Newt Gingrich managed to do earlier this year) it is hard to imagine that anyone will ever again see him as a viable national candidate. Keep in mind that when Santorum lost his Senate seat in 2004, Senator Bob Casey blew him out by 18 percentage points. So, Santorum is already on shaky ground.
Polls currently show the primary to be neck-and-neck, with Santorum leading Romney very slightly. But Romney's got lots of money and, judging by the results of Tuesday's primaries, it appears that rank-and-file (emphasis on "rank") Republicans are bowing to the inevitable.
Despite all that, Santorum soldiers on. He's taking positions that are anathema to much of the voting public. (Who but he really thinks contraception should be an issue?) His rhetoric toward Romney is scalding. He's playing it as if there is no tomorrow. If he wins Pennsylvania, it stills seems nearly impossible that he'll get the nomination. If he loses, he's done forever.
In 1876 General George Armstrong Custer, who some say had presidential ambitions of his own, charged into Sioux Territory spoiling for a big victory. We all know how that turned out.
Or do we? Has anybody asked Rick Santorum?