As Santorum drops out, three top campaign staffers set to head home to NH
'These decisions are never easy to come to, but he'll play an important role in helping to defeat Barack Obama, retaining the House and gaining a majority in the Senate,' Santorum national campaign manager Mike Biundo of Manchester told UnionLeader.com shortly after Santorum announced he was leaving the Republican presidential race.
Biundo, along with two other Granite Staters with top posts in the national Santorum campaign, were with the former Pennsylvania senator when he made the announcement in Gettysburg, Pa.
Back in New Hampshire, several Santorum supporters, while praising their candidate, said they are now behind Mitt Romney. Another key backer was far from ready to jump on with the former Massachusetts governor, who now has all but locked up the GOP presidential nomination.
After Santorum's seriously ill 3-year-old daughter, Isabella, spent the weekend in the hospital, for the second time in the campaign, Santorum announced that he and his family 'made a decision over the weekend, that while this presidential race for us is over, for me, and we will suspend our campaign today, we are not done fighting.'
Santorum began campaigning in New Hampshire more than a year ago, driving from town to town in supporters' vehicles, speaking to crowds that were small at first but then grew as the first-in-the-nation primary grew closer. He attempted to bring a 'blue collar' brand of conservatism to the race, coupled with a staunch hard-line message on foreign policy, especially directed at Iran.
After a surprising razor thin win in the Iowa caucus, he finished fourth in New Hampshire, finishing a handful of votes ahead of Newt Gingrich. He then went on to win contests in 10 more states before suffering a devastating night last Tuesday by being swept by Romney in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
New Hampshire political operatives Biundo, Nick Pappas, both of Manchester and 24-year-old Kristin Beaulieu of Nashua signed on with Santorum last year and became major players in his campaign. Beaulieu was national director of political operations and Pappas was deputy national political director.
Biundo said the Santorums reached the decision after 'prayers and reflection. His decision was based on what he believes was best for what he always has been, which was being a father first.
'We won 11 states and were greatly out-funded every step of the way,' he said. 'It proves something we know well in New Hampshire - that grassroots politics still works.'
Biundo said that Santorum did not endorse Romney but will meet with him shortly .
'Personally, I've had a great time. I got to work for an amazing man and meet his amazing family and met folk across the country and got a better understanding of what the fabric is and what makes up America,' said Biundo.
'It's definitely bittersweet,' said Beaulieu, 'because it was the past year of my life but it's amazing what we were able to accomplish.'
Beaulieu said she was attracted to Santorum by 'a genuineness that you don't typically see, and for me it's been an amazing opportunity. I've learned a lot.'
'It's a mixed bag of emotions,'said Pappas. 'Considering where we were and where we came from, it's impressive that the campaign got to where it is today. We ran a great campaign.'
'It was definitely a ride,' Pappas said.
State Rep. Dan Tamburello, R-Londonerry, said he was attracted to Santorum by his 'personal integrity and character. That, above anything else, distinguished him from the rest of the people in the field. He has always been a consistent conservative.'
Tamburello said he was not surprised that, after the New Hampshire primary, Santorum rose to become Romney's top challenger.
'I thought that once people started paying attention to him, he would resonate with people and they would say that he's not an empty suit,' Tamburello said.
Tamburello said backed Romney in the 2008 presidential campaign and now has 'no qualms' about doing so again.
State Sen. Jim Luther, R-Nashua, is also moving without hesitation to the Romney camp. He said he posted on his Facebook page last week that it was time 'to come together as a party.'
He said Santorum was 'authentic. He's real. He's compassionate and very articulate and principled, and I liked his thinking about manufacturing. He had some fresh ideas there.'
But Claira Monier, one of Santorum's state co-chairs said, 'I have to think about it.
'Part of my problem with Romney is whatever you want him to be he is. I don't know where Romney stand on the issues and that 'Etch-a-Sketch' talk really hit home with me.'
Monier, a lifelong Republican, did not rule out supporting Obama, who, she said, 'followed (George W.) Bush's foreign policy and followed the Romney model on health care. When you look at the outcomes, he's not radical.'
Meanwhile, Jim Merrill, Romney's senior advisor in New Hampshire, said in a statement, 'Rick Santorum and his team, including New Hampshire's own Mike Biundo, deserve congratulations for running a strong campaign. Senator Santorum added an important voice to the primary debate, and he and Governor Romney agree on the goal of turning our country around and getting America back to work.'
Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams, a former spokesman for the New Hampshire Republican Party congratulated Biundo 'on running a strong and formidable race and demonstrating the talent on the national stage that many of us in New Hampshire knew about all along.'