Santorum and backers huddle on path forward

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) waits to speak during a campaign stop at the St. Mary's Cultural & Banquet Center on Feb. 27, 2012 in Livonia, Michigan. Getty Images/Joe Raedle

Santorum on the attack on eve of Mich. primary
Getty Images/Joe Raedle
(CBS News) Prominent conservatives backing Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said a loss in the upcoming Pennsylvania primary could be "crippling" to his chances of winning the Republican nomination.

The conservative heavyweights met Thursday with the former Pennsylvania senator to reassess his campaign's path forward.

"I think it would be crippling, but I don't think it would be the death of the campaign," said Rebecca Hagelin, a conservative writer and columnist who participated in the meeting via telephone. "It is very difficult for anybody to continue when they have lost their home state."

Santorum grew up in Pennsylvania and represented the state in Congress for more than 15 years before he lost his Senate reelection bid in 2006.

Conservative activist Richard Viguerie would not say Santorum would have to drop out if he lost the Keystone State, but he questioned Santorum's next steps.

"I'm not sure I see a way forward if you don't carry Pennsylvania," Viguerie said.

Viguerie added that the conservatives who met with Santorum today presented "bold" ideas for how he could prevail in the primary, and that several of those ideas would be adopted as early as next week. He would not provide any details of the new strategy.

"The number one problem I expressed is that we've lost control of the narrative," Viguerie said. "Between the media, the Republican establishment, the Romney campaign, the message out there is the campaign is over with."

A recent Quinnipiac Poll gave Santorum a six point edge in the state, down from 14 points less than three weeks ago.

Today's meeting in the Washington, DC area also included a discussion of what the Santorum campaign sees as the media's inaccurate delegate allocation.

"The math is wrong on the delegate count that is being put forward by the establishment part of the Republican party," said Hagelin. "Because Senator Santorum is being outspent, it's very difficult for him to fight this establishment message that Romney's campaign is putting forward."

In a memo circulated by the campaign, adviser John Yob pointed to upcoming county and state party conventions that will vote on unpledged delegates. The memo also signifies that the campaign hopes that Republican National Committee (RNC) rules will require Florida, Arizona, and Puerto Rico to award their delegates proportionally, instead of on a winner-take-all basis.

"They broke RNC rules by going winner take all before the window and therefore RNC Members and/or the convention will enforce the rules and make the delegations proportional," wrote Yob. "This will reduce Romney's delegate total substantially and increase the other three candidates' respective delegate totals."

Yob also said that Texas, with its 155 delegates, was considering a switch to a winner-take-all allocation system rather than proportional. However such a move would require the Republican National Committee to grant the state party a waiver, an outcome seen as highly unlikely.

CBS News estimates that with 630 delegates, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has more than half of the 1,144 delegates he needs to secure the nomination. Santorum trails with 246 and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Congressman Ron Paul have 128 and 45 respectively.

Both Viguerie and Hagelin said today's meeting participants did discuss Gingrich, but that there was no talk of a coordinated effort to get him to withdraw from the race.

"We talked briefly that he wasn't helping right now and if we could have gotten his votes in Wisconsin, we would have won," Viguerie said. "We're pretty much all in agreement - Newt's going to stay in and there's not much we can do about it."

Viguerie also had some harsh words for front-runner Romney, who Viguerie believes has used the millions of dollars in his campaign war chest to tear down his conservative rivals.

"Conservatives are just furious at him," Viguerie said. "He's made zero attempts to reach out to us. All he has done is attack our candidates out there. How he unites the party escapes me right now."

  • Caroline Horn On Twitter»

    Caroline Horn is CBS News' senior producer for politics.

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