PITTSBURGH -- It's been a while since Rick Santorum actually voted in Pennsylvania, but for the second time in as many weeks he'll be waiting for a round of crucial primary results in the state he previously represented in Congress.
Two weeks ago, as Illinois voters handed the bulk of the state's delegates to Mitt Romney, Mr. Santorum waited for the results in Gettysburg, Pa.
Tuesday night, as the polls close on GOP primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, Mr. Santorum will hold a rally at the Sheraton in Mars, Pa., which is not far from the Veterans Hospital grounds where he spent much of his childhood.
In scheduling that appeared to reflect more optimism about the likely results, Mr. Romney is holding his election night rally in Milwaukee, where he'll be surrounded by the members of the state's GOP hierarchy who have flocked to his candidacy in recent days.
Mr. Romney is expected to win easily over Mr. Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul in Maryland and the District of Columbia, where Mr. Santorum didn't qualify for the ballot. The former governor also held a substantial, but less overwhelming lead in polling in Wisconsin, which borders on two states he won in recent weeks, Illinois and Michigan, and two, Iowa and Minnesota, where Mr. Santorum prevailed.
The latest polling in the Badger State showed Mr. Romney with a lead of seven percentage points over the former senator. That advantage was registered in a week in which some of the state's leading Republicans, including Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Ron Johnson, pledged allegiance to the national front-runner.
Mr. Santorum has nonetheless stumped tenaciously in the Wisconsin, logging considerably more campaign days there than his chief rival. But, as has been the case throughout the nomination fight, he has been heavily outspent there by Mr. Romney.
Mr. Santorum lives and votes in Virginia, although he still owns a home in Penn Hills, Pa. According to Allegheny County records, he cast his last vote in his old state in the 2010 primary election. His return to his old home underscores his earlier declaration that Pennsylvania is a must-win state for him as he struggles to block Mr. Romney from accumulating the 1,144 delegates needed for nomination.
According to a tabulation by the Associated Press on primary eve Mr. Romney had 572 delegates, more than twice Mr. Santorum's total of 273. They were followed by Mr. Gingrich with 135 and Mr. Paul, 50. The Santorum campaign disputes the accuracy of the AP count, insisting that it includes projections of caucus state totals that could shift significantly between now and the Tampa convention in August.
But by any measure, it is clear that Mr. Romney has a substantial lead in a race that many leading Republicans appear ready to declare over.
One recent poll of Pennsylvania Republicans by Franklin & Marshall College showed Mr. Santorum holding only a two-point lead over Mr. Romney, an erosion from the double-digit edge he had enjoyed in several earlier surveys of the state. A question about the latest poll on Fox News Sunday elicited an outburst from Mr. Santorum, in which he assailed the poll's director, Terry Madonna, was "a Democratic hack," and suggested that the veteran pollster, a widely recognized and quoted expert on state politics, "just draws numbers out of a hat."
Mr. Madonna, whose polling results appear in news outlets including the Philadelphia Daily News, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WTAE-TV, dismissed the criticism, noting that the survey had accurately projected the results of Mr. Santorum's Senate victory in 2000 and his loss in 2006. In the latter race, the final survey showed Mr. Santorum trailing Sen. Bob Casey by 15 points. On election day, the Republican lost by just over 17 percentage points.
Another recent survey, released Monday by Mercyhurst College, seemed to concur in the general direction, if not the exact numbers, depicted in the F&M survey. Mercyhurst found Mr. Santorum leading Mr. Romney, 37 percent to 31 percent, with Mr. Paul and Mr. Gingrich trailing at 10 percent and 9 percent respectively.
Mr. Madonna acknowledged that, decades ago, he was active in Democratic politics but insisted that he has maintained a nonpartisan stance since before the founding of his polling organization in 1986.
In the 1970s, he was appointed by a vote of local judges to fill a vacancy on the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners. Later he ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic candidate for the state Legislature.
The survey that he directs started as The Keystone Poll when he was on the faculty of Shippinsberg University. Later he shifted his operation to the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College's Floyd Institute for Public Policy. In February, it found Mr. Santorum with a comfortable 45-16 percent lead in the state. The survey that sparked Mr. Santorum's ire found that advantage collapsed to 30 percent to 28 percent, a margin well within the survey's 4.2 percent margin for error.
Dismissing Mr. Santorum's comments, Mr. Madonna said, "I think this is really a reaction to two things -- the pressure to get out of the race, with all these conservative icons endorsing Romney, and then the second thing is the prospect of losing Pennsylvania."
The Santorum campaign did not respond to a request to elaborate on that critique.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. James O'Toole is politics editor at the Post-Gazette.
Contact James O'Toole at: email@example.com, or 412-263-1562.