GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Rick Santorum returned to his home state on Tuesday to end his run for president, removing the last obstacle to Mitt Romney's claim on the Republican nomination two weeks ahead of the Pennsylvania primary.
Appearing with his wife, Karen, and four of their children before reporters in this historic Civil War town, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania sounded as if even he had not anticipated the trajectory of his campaign, from the early days holding town hall meetings in Iowa to ultimately winning contests across the country.
"Miracle after miracle, this race was as improbable as any race you will ever see for president," he said.
While he did not mention the former Massachusetts governor during his appearance, his strategist, John Brabender, said the two men had spoken and that Mr. Romney asked to meet with Mr. Santorum.
Mr. Santorum said he had come to the decision at home in Virginia, where he traveled this weekend for the Easter holiday and stayed to care for his 3-year-old daughter, Bella, who had been hospitalized.
While he said his daughter had returned home and was doing "exceptionally well," Mr. Santorum said her illness caused him and his wife to reflect on their role as parents.
"While this presidential race for us is over, for me, and we will suspend our campaign effective today, we are not done fighting," he said.
He called for Republicans to unseat President Obama, retain control of the House of Representatives, and take the Senate.
For most of his campaign, Mr. Santorum appeared a long shot to become the Republican nominee.
He had lost his Senate seat by more than 17 points in 2006, and most national polls of presidential candidates throughout 2011 showed his support in the low single digits. But his campaign gained traction in the new year and then surged, propelling him to the front of the Republican pack in February.
He remained far behind Mr. Romney, however, in the tally of delegates needed to claim the nomination, and his campaign debt led him to seek donations from supporters even after suspending his campaign on Tuesday.
Supporters in Pennsylvania said Mr. Santorum had articulated a clear message and put up an impressive fight.
"He brought a viewpoint of economic upward mobility that was very important to him growing up in the steel towns of Western Pennsylvania," said state Sen. Jake Corman, chairman of the Appropriations Committee and a friend of Mr. Santorum.
"I think whoever the eventual nominee is going to be — probably Mitt Romney — will be a better candidate because of Rick Santorum being in the race," he said.
David N. Taylor, a former aide to Mr. Santorum in the Senate, said the campaign also showed the possibility of a Republican insurgent challenging an establishment-backed presidential candidate.
"There's a feeling among many grass-roots Republicans that the nomination should be earned, and that the party elders have a bad habit of just wanting to tap the next fellow in line," said Mr. Taylor, who is now executive director of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association.
Soon after Mr. Santorum's withdrawal, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a conservative favorite, endorsed Mr. Romney. Speaking to reporters in Bridgeville, Gov. Tom Corbett said he may set aside his own neutrality in the race. The governor said he was not surprised by Mr. Santorum's success.
"I have told many people, do not underestimate Rick Santorum," Mr. Corbett said. "His perseverance is amazing. And he does have a distinct following in the more conservative elements of the party."
Former Pennsylvania congressman Phil English, a Romney backer, said that while the Romney campaign had become confident it would clinch the nomination, the timing of Mr. Santorum's decision would allow the party to bypass further infighting and focus on building support for Mr. Romney in Pennsylvania, a critical state in the general election.
In the evening, Mr. Santorum appeared before a friendly crowd at Lancaster Bible College for a conversation with James Dobson, founder of the conservative group Focus on the Family. Tom McCall, a 56-year-old Lancaster resident, decided to attend the event after hearing the day's campaign news. He was disappointed Mr. Santorum was no longer running.
"His passion for family and life is a glimpse of what he would be like as president," Mr. McCall said. "He would be a leader. Far too many people in politics want to placate their constituents rather than leading in what we're supposed to do as good stewards of society."
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Karen Langley is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
Contact Karen Langley at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 1-717-787-2141.