Rick Santorum’s final hope for a victory that could boost his long-shot run for the White House into May is beginning to look increasingly forlorn.
He has already said that he must win his home state of Pennsylvania, which goes to the polls on April 24, but three polls in the past two days have shown his once-commanding lead there has been eaten away by Mitt Romney’s better-funded campaign.
Quinnipiac University and Rasmussen Reports both have Santorum just holding on in the Keystone State with Romney catching up fast, while Public Policy Polling (PPP) puts the former Massachusetts governor ahead.
Those results are increasing the pressure on Santorum to pull out — maybe to avoid a humiliating defeat in the state he represented in the Senate for 12 years.
“The momentum in Pennsylvania is moving completely against Rick Santorum,” said PPP president Dean Debnam. “Mitt Romney has a great chance to deliver a final crushing blow to his campaign on April 24. A home state loss would be incredibly embarrassing for Santorum.”
Debnam said Pennsylvania Republicans are expressing major doubts about Santorum's viability both in the primary and the general election.
“Only 36 percent of GOP voters think Santorum has a realistic chance at the nomination, to 54 percent who believe he does not. And when it comes to matching up against Barack Obama in the fall, only 24 percent of Republicans think Santorum would provide their best chance for a victory while 49 percent think that designation belongs to Romney.”
PPP put Romney up by five points, a sharp reverse from its poll of four weeks ago when Santorum held an 18-point edge. The Rasmussen and PPP polls were both taken on Wednesday after Romney’s overwhelming victories in primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.
The Quinnipiac poll taken between Thursday last week and Sunday had Santorum up by six percentage points over Romney. In a similar poll taken just three weeks earlier, the university gave Santorum a 14-point lead.
Rasmussen had him up by four points in that organization’s first poll of the GOP candidates in the state. All three polls put the other two challengers, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, at 10 percent or less.
In its report Rasmussen points out that Pennsylvania voters are equally divided on whether a candidate’s electability or his values are more important. GOP voters in most other states believe it is more important to choose someone who has the best chance of beating President Barack Obama.
The RealClearPolitics poll of polls now puts Santorum up by just 1.7 percentage points in Pennsylvania, whereas he had a double digit lead there in early March.
Publicly, Romney says that Santorum should win the state. His campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul told The Wall Street Journal, "We fully expect Sen. Santorum will win Pennsylvania, the same way Speaker Gingrich won Georgia and Gov. Romney handily won Massachusetts."
But knowing that a home defeat for Santorum would be humiliating, the campaign has to decide whether to go in for the kill and start advertising heavily there, in the same way it has in other states where Santorum mounted a serious challenge.
Santorum said on Wednesday that Pennsylvania is a “must win” for him if he is to stay in the race until May, when a series of states including West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Texas, which are generally seen as more friendly to him, hold their primaries.
But on Thursday he announced he was taking five days off the campaign trail so he could spend Easter with his family and celebrate his oldest daughter Elizabeth’s 21st birthday.
But influential figures in the party believe Santorum should drop out completely. Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday, that he “has a limited window to exit the race and to keep both his integrity and reputation ... the time to do it is right now — before he loses Pennsylvania,” while Karl Rove declared Romney the nomination winner in an article in The Wall Street Journal.
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