Richard Blyth was pretty happy to serve Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich a fountain Pepsi Tuesday, April 10, 2012 when he stopped at The Birthplace of Pepsi, located in historic New Bern, North Carolina, the actual site where Pepsi-Cola was first invented by Caleb Bradham in his pharmacy in 1898. Gingrich was in New Bern to speak to a GOP fundraiser at the Chelsea Restaurant. (AP Photo/Sun Journal, Chuck Beckley)
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Chuck Beckley

Richard Blyth was pretty happy to serve Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich a fountain Pepsi Tuesday, April 10, 2012 when he stopped at The Birthplace of Pepsi, located in historic New Bern, North Carolina, the actual site where Pepsi-Cola was first invented by Caleb Bradham in his pharmacy in 1898. Gingrich was in New Bern to speak to a GOP fundraiser at the Chelsea Restaurant. (AP Photo/Sun Journal, Chuck Beckley)

Chances of GOP presidential fight in N.C. fades with Santorum exit

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH — Rick Santorum’s departure from the Republican presidential race means less should be at stake for the GOP nomination when North Carolina voters participate in the state’s May 8 primary.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appears well on his way to claiming the party’s presidential nomination after Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, suspended his campaign Tuesday. Newt Gingrich vowed to remain in the national race and still planned to speak at a Greensboro tea party event Saturday, but the former U.S. House speaker badly trails in the delegate count.

While Gingrich could persuade Santorum supporters to support him during what Gingrich has called “the last stand for conservatives,” Santorum’s name will remain on the ballot. Other Santorum supporters in North Carolina are already uniting behind Romney. Gingrich is third in the delegate count and has won primaries in only two states, South Carolina and Georgia, which he represented in Congress. Texas congressman Ron Paul also plans to stay in the race.

Santorum’s exit “might help Gingrich in terms of some numbers, but I don’t think it will help with any kind of long-term chances,” said Susan Roberts, associate professor of political science at Davidson College, north of Charlotte. Even a primary victory for Gingrich in North Carolina, Roberts added, “will be a rhetorical victory.”

Gingrich was in New Bern on Tuesday — wrapping up two days of events in North Carolina — when word got out that Santorum was suspending his campaign. Gingrich said Wednesday in Delaware, where the GOP primary is April 24, that supporters are encouraging him to stay in the race. North Carolina has 55 delegates, nearly all of whom are awarded to the presidential candidates on a proportional basis.

N.C. Rep. Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, who endorsed Gingrich for president, said Wednesday that Gingrich is in a better place than he was 48 hours earlier. Brubaker recalled 1976, the last time North Carolina GOP members played a significant role in choosing a nominee, when Ronald Reagan upset President Gerald Ford. Reagan didn’t win the nomination, but he went on to a string of victories and battled Ford to the Republican party convention. Four years later, Reagan won the White House.

“The question with Santorum dropping out is where do those supporters go?” asked Brubaker, who has known Gingrich for more than 20 years. If they go to Gingrich, Brubaker added, “that could put him in pretty good shape in North Carolina.”

Roberts said Gingrich will be hard-pressed to get on the airwaves in North Carolina because his campaign is at least $4.5 million in debt. He shouldn’t expect TV assistance from Keep Conservatives United, which had started running commercials in Wilmington last week supporting Santorum and criticizing Romney and Gingrich. The independent committee is now backing Romney, organizers Bob Harris and Luther Snyder said.

“We felt Santorum had the best chance to beat (President Barack) Obama because he provided the clearest contrast,” Harris and Snyder said in a statement. “We will support Romney in the fall because four more years of Obama ... can very well do irreparable damage to the nation.”

Santorum’s withdrawal could affect turnout for the May 8 referendum, when voters are also being asked to amend the North Carolina constitution to identify marriage between a man and a woman as the only domestic legal union recognized in the state.

Santorum’s supporters include many social conservatives who could also be expected to back the amendment, but Roberts is not persuaded that his lack of active campaigning will change referendum turnout dramatically. There are competitive congressional GOP primaries in several regions that will bring out voters, too, she said.

Roberts said her biggest disappointment as a political scientist is not being in the middle of a hyper-competitive presidential primary, like the Democratic primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008.

“I was looking forward to some campaigning, and having the campaign being vital in North Carolina,” she said. North Carolina is still expected to be a battleground state during the general presidential race.

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Santorum

Personal life Rick Santorum's wife Karen, along with daughter Sarah Maria, at the Values Voter Summit in October 2011 Santorum met his future wife, Karen Garver (born 1960), while she was a law student at the University of Pittsburgh and he was recruiting summer interns for Kirkpatrick & Lockhart. She was a neo-natal nurse prior to attending law school. They married in 1990[24] and have seven living children. In 1996, the Santorums' son Gabriel was born prematurely after twenty weeks of pregnancy and died in the hospital two hours after birth. Karen wrote that she and Rick slept with the dead infant between them in the hospital that night, then brought his body home the following day and introduced it to their children as "your brother Gabriel".[3][194][195] The handling of their infant son's death attracted scrutiny in January 2012 following Santorum's success in the Iowa caucuses. However, mental health experts interviewed by ABC News said what the Santorums did was encouraged at the time, although no longer recommended.[196] Writers who had experienced a stillbirth defended the Santorums' actions, with columnist Charles Lane writing that he personally regretted not showing the body of his stillborn baby to his then-six year old son,[197] and Jessica Heslam, writing that holding her own stillborn baby brought her "much peace".[198] Four of the Santorums' children appeared with their parents on Piers Morgan Tonight in January 2012, and said they were all glad to have seen Gabriel, and they hold a place in their hearts for their brother

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