Candidates React to Santorum’s Departure from GOP Race

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In a campaign speech today, Rick Santorum announced that he is dropping out of the Republican race for president:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we made the decision to get into this race around our kitchen table, against all the odds…We made a decision over the weekend that while the presidential race for us is over, and I will suspend my campaign effective today, we are not done fighting.”

How did the rest of the presidential candidates take the news?

Seizing the opportunity to rally the Republican Party, frontrunner Mitt Romney took a subtle approach to wooing Santorum faithfuls, congratulating his former opponent and praising him as an “able and worthy competitor.” Romney’s campaign later released a statement applauding Santorum’s as “an important voice in [the Republican] party and in the nation.”

And it didn’t take Newt Gingrich long before he addressed Santorum’s supporters and asked them to channel their support for the former Pennsylvania Senator into his conservative platform. Taking a more aggressive approach than Romney, Gingrich directly reached out to voters, saying:

“I am committed to staying in this race all the way to Tampa so that the conservative movement has a real choice. I humbly ask Sen. Santorum’s supporters to visit Newt.org to review my conservative record and join us as we bring these values to Tampa. We know well that only a conservative can protect life, defend the Constitution, restore jobs and growth and return to a balanced budget.”

Contrary to the confidence projected in today’s speech, however, Gingrich admitted on Sunday that Romney will likely win the Republican nomination, due to the size of the organization, his previous primary and caucus wins, and his lead in the delegate race. According to CNN, the delegate count shows Romney in the lead with 659 delegates, Santorum in second with 275, Gingrich trailing with 140, and Ron Paul with 71 delegates.

Despite trailing in delegates, Ron Paul has every intention to remain in the Republican Presidential race, and after congratulating Rick Santorum on a “spirited” campaign, Paul’s campaign remains committed to appealing to conservative voters. In a campaign statement released today, he positioned himself directly against Mitt Romney:

“Dr. Paul is now the last –  and real – conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. We plan to continue running hard, secure delegates, and press the fight for limited, constitutional government in Tampa.”

Now a three man race, the future of the GOP primary contest comes down to delegates, and with no mention of Mitt Romney endorsement in his exit speech, Rick Santorum’s delegates are still in play.