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posted: 4/10/2012 8:07 PM

Santorum Illinois leaders: 'We earned the silver medal'

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  • Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a graduate of Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, is suspending his Republican presidential campaign.

    Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a graduate of Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, is suspending his Republican presidential campaign.

  • Video: Santorum campaign song

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Rick Santorum's Illinois campaign directors were not entirely surprised by the former Pennsylvania senator's news he planned to bow out of the Republican presidential race.

Instead of voicing disappointment following Santorum's Tuesday afternoon speech, they marveled at the length of his campaign in the face of the much larger and better financed organization of GOP front-runner Mitt Romney.

It was, after all, just four months ago that Santorum, a graduate of Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, was driving around Iowa's 99 counties in a pickup truck, simply trying to stay in the primary race.

Santorum's surprise victory in Iowa was followed by victories in 10 other states, including a strong Super Tuesday showing and a sweep of the Deep South.

"I think it's amazing how well he did," honorary Illinois co-chair and fellow Carmel alum Al Salvi, of Wauconda, said.

Salvi noted Santorum's "organizational disadvantage" and "shoestring budget," citing a call he personally received to go help collect petition signatures in Indiana.

In Illinois, Santorum failed to file petitions in four out of the state's 18 congressional districts. He was hundreds of signatures short of the required minimum in a majority of others, remaining on the ballot only after Illinois' Romney campaign dropped a challenge of the petitions.

All the same, growing popularity among Tea Partyers and evangelicals made Santorum a force to be reckoned with for Romney.

Santorum's strength forced Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, to revise initial campaign plans for Illinois and more seriously court voters in the suburbs.

And for a time, Santorum appeared confident he would be the party's eventual nominee.

In an interview with the Daily Herald March 16, Santorum called Romney's delegate counts "overinflated" and his own "underinflated" -- saying then he was not making any other plans than to be his party's nominee.

"This race is a lot more open than the cursory delegate counts go," he said then. "There's a lot to happen here and we're a long way from a decision on this race," he said.

But in the end, the delegate totals told the tale of Santorum's demise. Nationally, Romney has more than twice as many delegates as Santorum and is on pace to reach the number needed to clinch the nomination -- 1,144 -- by early June.

Salvi, of Wauconda, said Tuesday that he had received word via a phone call that Santorum would end his underdog quest.

Santorum and his wife, Karen, spent the weekend in the hospital with their ailing 3-year-old daughter, Bella, who was born with a rare genetic disorder called Trisomy 18.

Salvi said Bella Santorum's health problems are "not the central reason" for Santorum's decision.

It was, instead, "just math," he said, referring to Santorum's delegate count.

Santorum's Illinois Director Jon Zahm said campaign chairs were informed of the news during a 12:30 p.m. conference call.

"But you know, we look at this as a good day, not a bad day. We earned the silver medal. We made it a long way. We had a big impact on the process," said Zahm, a longtime Batavia resident who now lives in western Illinois.

Zahm believes Santorum's candidacy "made sure" Romney, who governed in a Democratic state, "dealt with issues from a conservative perspective."

Illinois GOP Chair Pat Brady, of St. Charles, said he believes Romney became a more refined candidate by competing with Santorum.

"I think Mitt Romney evolved as a candidate," Brady said. "He got much crisper. He answered questions on his own background, on his work with Bain (and Co.) three months ago -- questions he won't be answering for the first time in September."

Santorum must move to technically "release" the 10 delegates he won in Illinois, a move Zahm said he expected will occur. Santorum's delegates would then become "free agents" -- able to vote for the candidate of their choosing -- at the Republican National Convention in August in Tampa.

I'll be supporting Romney. The vast majority of people I interact with will be," Zahm said. "There's a real chasm with Romney and Obama on many issues."

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