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The decks are cleared

Apr 11, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

You know your presidential campaign is in trouble when winning your home-state primary is starting to look like a long shot. That, however, was the scene unfolding for Rick Santorum as the Pennsylvania primary neared.

Instead of being able to count on Pennsylvania to re-energize his campaign for the 2012 Republican nomination, Santorum realized the April 24 primary was more likely to be an embarrassment for him.

On Tuesday, Santorum announced he was abandoning the campaign, clearing the way for Mitt Romney's easy waltz to the nomination. It won't become official until the national conventions this summer, but the general election ballot is set. It's going to be Romney vs. Obama.

This has been a topsy-turvy primary season for the Republicans. It took longer for the nominee to emerge than it usually does thanks to some success for both Santorum and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in primaries and caucuses.

Gingrich says he'll stay in the field until the convention, and until yesterday Santorum had maintained that the nomination was still an open issue. Eventually, however, you have to start winning somewhere, and the nation had come to realize that it had been a good while since anyone other than Mitt Romney won a primary of any significance.

Santorum's tactic in recent weeks had been to repeat his position that only about half the delegates for nomination had been selected, and that most of those who had been picked still could change their minds.

But that was a combination of hope and fantasy. It would take an unprecedented breakdown of the Romney campaign to compel hundreds of his duly selected convention delegates to turn tail and run toward Santorum -- something along the lines of an injury or illness, or perhaps a sordid moral scandal. And Romney, a squeaky clean LDS family man who is hale and hearty at age 65, is not a good prospect for either of those personal disasters.

The 2012 general election shapes up as a confrontation between an insecure incumbent and a weak challenger, neither of whom inspires a surplus of enthusiasm among his respective party's base.

Those complaining descriptions are easy to make in April. Come September, however, all will be forgiven. The battle lines will be hardened and clear, and the grudging acceptance afforded the two candidates in April will have vanished to the point that the choice no longer will be framed as vulnerable Obama vs. feeble Romney, but something more akin to a heavyweight title bout between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

Let the slugfest begin.

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