Amid the media coverage on the GOP presidential race this weekend one post stood out.  Written by the AP and appropriately titled “Cracks emerge in Santorum’s evangelical support” it describes a meeting between Santorum and Southern Baptist Convention top official Richard Land.  In this meeting he urged Santorum to end his bid and allow the party to unite against Obama.  On CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday Land reiterated much the same thing.

Santorum has been adamant he is in the race for the long haul.  He usually cites the races coming up in May as reason why.  Yet in the two most polled May races, WV and NC, he is slipping and that slippage is among “very conservative” and evangelical voters.  These voters, especially in the South have fueled his rise since early February.  But recently the pressure on Santorum to drop out from moderate to conservative Republicans appears to be taking its toll and it is coming from unexpected new sources.

Newt Gingrich appearing on Fox News Sunday said that he now expects Mitt Romney to be the nominee.  Moreover he iterated the party needs to unite against Obama.  It has been apparent that Gingrich had no shot at the party’s nod after Super Tuesday but to hear him come out and say these things, after the bad blood between him and Romney, is quite illuminating on the state of the GOP race.

For his part Santorum has vowed to make his stand in his home state of PA on April 24th.  Yet so far other than a few campaign appearances Santorum’s campaign has made little noise in the state. The campaig has made no ad buys in the state nor has announced any intention to do so. Santorum quietly spent his Easter weekend off the trail with his family.  His youngest daughter, Bella, was born with an incredibly rare disease called Trisomy 18, a severe, and usually fatal genetic disorder in which a baby has an extra chromosome, resulting in abnormal development of the brain and major organs.  Bella was hospitalized this week and the family and Santorum spent Easter weekend with her.

But on top of these new alarms about Santorum possibly losing his base is the long odds he faces on April 24th.  The only state he could possibly win that day is PA, while other Northeastern states such as NY, CT, DE RI vote.  These states will surely give the majority of their delegates to Romney’s already impressive haul.  Even worse for Santorum is that PA’s primary is a proportional based primary and thus he could net few delegates even if he wins the state.

Recent polls out of PA show a tight race.  The latest survey from PPP (D) showed Romney leading Santorum 42%-37% and doing so by winning suburban moderate voters and eating into Santorum’s evangelical and “very conservative” base of support.  A Rasmussen poll taken on the same day showed Santorum leading 42%-38% (you have to pay for RR’s cross-tab results).  The two prior surveys, from Quinnipiac and F&M showed Santorum with 6 and 2 point leads respectively.

It has become clear for some time that Santorum is bleeding support from his base.  Since the Illinois primary in late March Romney has done well among Midwestern “very conservative voters.”  In Illinois Romney tied Santorum’s mark among “very conservative” voters according to exit polls.  And in WI Romney proved that was not an aberration by repeating the feat. The result was Romney winning emphatic victories in each state, 12 points in Illinois and 7 in Wisconsin.

April 24th offers Santorum little chance to right the ship.  Even if he wins PA and somehow manages to squeak out an even haul of the delegates in his state he will face primary terrain that has essentially marginalized him.  Every TV show he goes he will be asked how he intends to win the nomination, how his campaign can keep running on so little cash and how his campaign can win with such significant infrastructure problems?  Gingrich on Fox News eventually indicated as much.  And while Romney may try to put Santorum away for good in PA he is not even mentioning him by name anymore when he campaigns.  Romney is already in general election mode.

All this begs the question how long Santorum’s base sticks with him.  Even if Santorum manages to somehow survive until May 8th those conservative voters in WV and NC might finally decide to back the winning horse in the race.  Or they may just not go out to vote considering it a waste of their effort to pull the lever for Santorum.  Either way this phenomenon has been a long time coming and for Romney and the GOP it could not come sooner.  The party needs to unite to defeat Obama and they cannot do that with Santorum trying to convince the base Romney is an “anti-conservative” or “Obamalite” candidate.  Santorum needed to start losing his base and all signs point to this happening with stunning speed.

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