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Rick Santorum exits presidential race

CHRIS JOHNSON | Washington Blade
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
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Rick Santorum announced on Tuesday he would no longer pursue the Republican nomination for the White House, ending the campaign of one of the most anti-gay candidates seeking the presidency.

During a speech in Gettysburg, Pa., the former U.S. senator announced he decided to suspend his campaign after taking a break to care for his three-year-old daughter who was hospitalized over the weekend.

via IowaPolitics.com

Rick Santorum

“We made a decision to get into this race at our kitchen table against all the odds, and we made a decision over the weekend that 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.

The departing candidate took no questions after he gave his exit speech, nor did he endorse another candidate.

Santorum, who represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate from 1995 to 2006, won 11 states and earned 285 delegates, the second highest of all the presidential candidates behind Mitt Romney.

The candidate’s exit comes before the primary took place in his home state of Pennsylvania on April 24. Polls showed Santorum was narrowly ahead in the race. According to a Rasmussen poll published on Thursday, 42 percent of likely voters are supporting Santorum, while 38 percent of likely voters support Romney.

Many observers had already declared the primary season over. Romney appeared to be the frontrunner for the GOP nomination after winning three primaries in Wisconsin, D.C. and Maryland. Romney had also amassed 661 delegates, which is more than the other Republican candidates combined.

Dan Pinello, who’s gay and a government professor at City University of New York, said he doesn’t think Santorum’s departure “seriously affects the race” and the candidate exited because his money dried up.

“Romney was spending $2 million in the Pennsylvania primary alone, and Santorum had nothing to fight back with,” Pinello said. “Plus, all the endorsements of party insiders were going to Romney. Better to bow out than be humiliated in your own home state.”

In the past couple weeks, Romney secured endorsements from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — both seen as rising stars within the Republican Party.

Santorum had taken many anti-gay positions over the course of his campaign and backed a Federal Marriage Amendment barring same-sex marriage throughout the country.

Last year, Santorum was among the GOP hopefuls who signed a pledge from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage committing himself to backing a Federal Marriage Amendment, defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court, and establishing a commission on “religious liberty” to investigate the alleged harassment of same-sex marriage opponents.

Santorum also said he would reinstate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if elected to the White House, pledging in a public forum to the anti-gay Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins in March to reverse repeal of the military’s gay ban.

“I don’t believe [open service is] in the best interest of our men and women in uniform,” Santorum said. “That doesn’t mean that people who are gay and lesbian can’t serve, it’s just that they can serve in the context of what, I think, everybody in the military does — keep their own private matters to themselves and serve this country accordingly.”

When “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was in effect from 1994 to 2011, an estimated 14,346 service members were expelled from the military. Many of those troops were expelled even though they made no declaration about their sexual orientation.

FRC’s Perkins praised Santorum upon his exit from the race, saying he carried a “message of faith, family and freedom” over the course of the campaign.

“Millions of voters flocked to Rick not because he was a Republican, but because he passionately articulated the connection between America’s financial greatness and its moral and cultural wholeness,” Perkins said. “He realizes that real problem-solving starts with an understanding that the economy and the family are indivisible.”

Perkins and other evangelicals were among the nearly 170 anti-gay leaders who rallied behind Santorum in January at a conference in Brenham, Texas, to discuss the GOP primary race and top policy goals for a Republican administration.

Santorum became notorious for vocalizing his opposition to same-sex marriage throughout his campaign.

On the day Washington State legalized same-sex marriage on Feb. 13, Santorum traveled to the state and derided the news in a speech, urging opponents of the law to bring the law to a referendum before voters in November.

“There are ebbs and flows in every battle, and this is not the final word,” Santorum said before supporters in Olympia, Wash.

In the past year of campaigning, Santorum went as far as saying “our country will fail” as a result of same-sex marriage and raised eyebrows in August when he said same-sex marriage is like “saying this glass of water is a glass of beer.”

In January, Santorum drew fire for vocalizing his opposition to same-sex marriage when campaigning in the libertarian state of New Hampshire, which has legalized same-sex marriage.

“Marriage is a privilege,” Santorum said. “It is not a right. It is privilege given by society, held up by society, for purposes that it provides some societal good, and I would make the argument, some extraordinary societal good.”

Prior to his final campaign appearance in New Hampshire on Jan. 10, protesters from the Occupy movement jeered Santorum, chanting “Bi-got! Bi-got! Bi-got!”

After the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 8 ruled against California’s Proposition 8, Santorum railed against the decision.

“The Ninth Circuit decision yesterday said that marriage, if you believe in traditional marriage, between a man and a woman and exclusively that, you are in fact, the only reason you could possibly believe that, is because you are a bigot,” Santorum said. ”Your belief of marriage between a man and a woman is purely irrational based on hatred and bigotry.”

It’s this kind of anti-gay rhetoric that made LGBT advocates happy to see Santorum exit the race.

Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said the anti-gay positions that Santorum staked out during his campaign made him “a stain on the Republican Party,” but predicted the candidate wouldn’t vanish from public view now that he’s departed the race.

“It was always clear that Santorum was not going to be the GOP nominee, but unfortunately we haven’t seen the last of him,” Davis said. “His brand of ultra-conservatism and rank piety appealed to a particular slice of the Republican electorate.”

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, had a more positive spin on Santorum’s departure, saying the end of his anti-gay rhetoric would enable the GOP to appeal to a broader constituency as Election Day draws closer.

“The departure of Rick Santorum’s divisive social politics from the race puts moderate, independent and younger conservative voters in play,” Cooper said. “The time is now for the Republican Party to capitalize by presenting an inclusive, united front focused on economic growth, exploration of natural resources and defending national interests abroad.”

Advocates said Santorum’s exit reinforces the notion that LGBT people should be prepared for Romney to become the Republican presidential nominee — whether they support his candidacy or not.

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, said Romney had already sealed the nomination even before Santorum dropped out of the race. LaSalvia has personally endorsed Romney’s candidacy.

“Rick Santorum has recognized the political reality that most in the party have acknowledged for weeks now – Mitt Romney will be the nominee of the Republican Party,” LaSalvia said.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said Santorum’s exit means the LGBT community needs only to focus on Romney’s anti-gay positions.

“We now go from two leading candidates that would take LGBT rights completely backward in this country to one candidate who’d do the same,” Cole-Schwartz said. “While we might not be faced with Sen. Santorum’s extreme rhetoric anymore, we’re left with Gov. Romney whose anti-LGBT positions aren’t substantively much different.”

Romney has signed the same anti-gay pledge from NOM and has criticized Obama for dropping the government’s defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court. Still, the GOP frontrunner has said he doesn’t think the political wherewithal will be present in Congress to pass a Federal Marriage Amendment, and he has no plans to return to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Santorum’s departure means that only two Republican candidates other than Romney remain in the race: Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But Paul hasn’t won any states in the primaries, and Gingrich’s campaign has all but run out of gas.

Obama appears to be leading Romney as the primary season comes to an end. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll published Tuesday, registered voters favored Obama by 51 percent, while 44 percent were behind Romney.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated since its original posting.

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