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How Rick Santorum wins by dropping out of presidential race

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“While this presidential race for us is over for me – and we will suspend our campaign effective today – we are not done fighting,” Santorum said in Gettysburg, Pa., his family at his side. “We are going to continue to fight for those voices, we are going to continue to fight for the Americans who stood up and gave us that air under our wings that allowed us to accomplish things that no political expert would have ever expected.”

Republican analysts applauded Santorum for exiting the race now, allowing Romney to put the nasty nomination race behind him, rebuild his image, and set his sights on defeating President Obama in November.

“Nobody ever thought Rick Santorum would get this far; he deserves our respect,” says Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist. “Yes, he hurt Romney’s favorables, but he made Romney a better candidate.”

Former House Speaker Gingrich taught Romney how to debate, and Santorum taught Romney how to think of more than just independents and establishment Republicans, Mr. O’Connell says.

Romney had entered the nomination as the presumed front-runner, but he struggled to connect with key elements of the Republican base – evangelicals, blue-collar voters, and the very conservative, including tea paryters. Santorum, best known as a strong social conservative, proved an adept and tireless campaigner, and he emerged as the conservative alternative to the more-moderate Romney.   

By “suspending” now – effectively ending his bid – Santorum preserves his options for 2016 if Romney does not win in November, or 2020 if Romney does. It is oft-noted that in the modern era, the Republicans usually nominate a candidate who has run before. Santorum can now fashion himself to be the 21st century version of Ronald Reagan, who ran for the GOP nomination twice unsuccessfully before succeeding – and reaching the White House – in 1980.

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