Romney Needs Santorum as a Good Soldier

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Though he's left the race, it may be best for Rick Santorum to become more like Mitt Romney.

Not that Santorum should set aside his conservative social positions and embrace the moderate, vacillating politics of Romney, but the former Pennsylvania senator should take a short period of time to recuperate and then jump right back in as a dedicated supporter of the presumed Republican nominee.

Rick Santorum would be wise to show genuine support for Mitt Romney.

"Santorum ought to look at what Romney did in 2008 as a model," said Fergus Cullen, a Republican political consultant in New Hampshire. "Romney was a very good soldier to John McCain that year, and he wasn't one of those guys who seemed to be hoping that the nominee was going to run a good race but come up just short."

In 2008, Romney went so far as to open his donor network to McCain as the then-Republican nominee scraped for cash against the well-funded Barack Obama campaign.

Santorum can't offer Romney a fundraiser base capable of raising tens of millions of dollars for the former Massachusetts governor, but he can give him a voice that legitimizes candidate Romney in the eyes of conservative voters.

"Well obviously we've got a fractured base -- not unusual -- but he will give some legitimacy to Romney's pronouncements," said Patrick McSweeney, a former Virginia GOP chairman. "It wouldn't hurt at all to have someone who's galvanized social conservatives to be out there strongly pitching for Romney."

Romney failed to win a single primary in the Deep South -- a bastion of social conservatives and evangelical Christians -- as voters doubted the candidate's true conservative values and ability to create a distinction between himself and Obama.

This isn't to say that conservative Republican voters in typically red states won't vote for Romney in November, but the ability to motivate conservatives to vote in swing states will be critical to his chances to unseat the incumbent president.

In a video put out by super PAC American Crossroads, which former George W. Bush senior adviser Karl Rove heads, Rove said that the GOP candidate must retain all the states McCain won in 2008 and then flip three traditionally Republican states back from Obama in 2012: Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia.

Romney knows he will need to motivate voters in those three states if he hopes to regain their electoral votes for the party.

Where Santorum could be less of an asset is in Ohio and Florida, where economic issues are likely to play a much more significant role than anything else. Florida has a 9.4% unemployment rate (based on February's numbers) and one of the top five worst foreclosure rates in the country.

Aware of Romney's recent hard right turn on issues (a reaction to conservative backlash against Romney during the primaries), Obama's campaign in the early stages of 2012's general election race has attempted to portray Romney as a politician who would alienate women, the middle class and minorities.

Close affiliation with Santorum could hurt Romney among those crucial independent voters he needs in order to win Ohio and Florida.

"I think the Republican Party has to realize that you can't run all these campaigns on social issues only when the bigger problems of the economy loom ... when the bigger problem of immigration and realistic immigration policy is right around the corner," said Sig Rogich, a Nevada Republican political consultant and former adviser to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. "If you continue to do this, we'll quickly be ... a minority party without support from minorities."

Few Republicans believe Romney will select Santorum as his running mate, and part of the reason, Rogich said, is because the former senator drove wedge issues between the GOP and women.

If Romney can't win women voters, he can wave farewell to the presidency. It's a fact both campaigns are aware of. (Shortly before Santorum suspended his campaign, Romney's campaign emailed reporters statistics that aimed to show female economic plight during Obama's tenure. Obama's campaign on Wednesday sent reporters a statement from fair pay activist Lilly Ledbetter that said: "Mitt Romney is not willing to stand up for women and their families.")

Romney could simply ignore Santorum as he continues to heal Republican wounds with women, but if we learned anything about the scrappy former senator it's that Romney has encountered great trouble among millions of conservative voters who clearly favored Santorum.

Santorum's performance in the primaries all but guaranteed a speaking slot at August's Republican National Convention -- a fairly powerful opportunity for any Republican. That stage, along with surprising 2012 success, would renew Santorum's legitimacy within the party and give him a shot at running for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 or 2020, or a run at some other influential political office.

"We've got a lot of work to do as Republicans and conservatives, for that matter, as we go through this general election -- we have a Democratic incumbent to beat," a now-former Santorum campaign operative said in a phone interview. "Some Santorum staff may choose to jump on with our nominee, now -- with Gov. Romney."

Regardless of whether either of them likes it, Romney and Santorum need each other, politically. So it's time for them to make some concessions and smile politely.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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