Salena Zito

Less than a month before the Republican presidential primary in Pennsylvania, some experts warn that Rick Santorum faces a second humiliating defeat in a state he represented for sixteen years in Washington D.C.

The campaign should end before the April 24 primary here if the former senator continues to slide in opinion polls and lose other primaries, said Ed Morrissey, editor of the widely-read conservative blog, Hot Air.

“Losing in Pennsylvania not only finishes him in the race, but it may finish him for good,” said Morrissey, who caucused for Santorum last week in Minnesota.

A Franklin and Marshall Poll released Wednesday showed Santorum lost a double digit lead over rival former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in less than a month. The rivals are now in a statistical tie in Pennsylvania.

In 2006, Santorum lost a bid for a third term by 18 percentage points to Democrat Bob Casey of Scranton, the worst drubbing in the nation that year for an incumbent.

Republican strategist Brad Todd said Santorum faces a tough series of contests before Pennsylvania, especially the April 3 primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington D.C.

“I think with Wisconsin it will be hard to stitch a narrative together even by his most ardent backers if he loses there to go on,” said Todd, noting polls show Santorum trailing Romney by eight percentage points in the Badger State. “The support isn’t there for him. Losing another blue-collar, Catholic-rich Midwestern state to Mitt Romney isn’t a good story to tell.”

Santorum's campaign appears to be in trouble as well in Maryland and the District of Columbia, said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst for University of Virginia.

“Then there’s a three-week break, which gives Romney time to really focus on Pennsylvania in an effort to knock Santorum from the race,” he said.

The Santorum campaign did not return requests for comment.

A candidate needs 1,144 delegates to gain the Republican nomination. Romney has 568 delegates to Santorum's 273 with about 1,258 remaining to be chosen, according to the Associated Press.

Santorum’s delegate gap with Romney is essentially insurmountable, said Josh Putnam, an expert at Davidson College in North Carolina.

“They could make the argument that better days are ahead in May in Arkansas, Texas and North Carolina,” but that becomes decreasingly likely when and if he gets swept during the April contests,” Putnam said.

“Which makes me wonder if the contest really ever gets to Pennsylvania,” said Morrissey.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.