Rick Santorum is playing it coy. He's looking for a little sweet talk, and at least a bouquet, before he makes a long-term commitment.
Ten days after suspending his own campaign for president, Santorum has yet to endorse the all-but-certain Republican nominee, Mitt Romney. A seemingly perfect opportunity came and went at a party unity event on Tuesday morning when Romney visited a Pittsburgh suburb. But Santorum was not there.
Indeed, the former U.S. senator from Pittsburgh told 4,000 supporters on a conference call just hours before the event that he was fine if they wanted to vote for him in next Tuesday's Pennsylvania GOP primary, or in any forthcoming contest, for that matter - notwithstanding his own announcement last Tuesday that he was "suspending" his campaign. He declined to endorse Romney and did not even mention his name.
"As far as how you vote, that's up to you," Santorum said in response to a question. "I haven't supported any candidate at this point, so that's really up to you."
Santorum did repeat that he'd be "all in" on the Republican effort to defeat President Obama in November. He also allowed as how he'd be putting forward an organization to promote the conservative values he espoused during the nomination race.
Of course, any such political action committee or foundation could easily serve as the proto-campaign for another presidential run - say, in 2016.
Why the delay in endorsing Romney?
For one thing, Santorum has a campaign debt of at least $900,000, and he is busy reaching out to supporters, through the conference call and e-mails, among other things, to donate money to help him retire the debt.
He is also apparently intent on leveraging a role at the Aug. 27-30 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., perhaps in crafting the party's platform, and on securing respect for conservatives in a Romney administration.
"They are going to just sit down and talk about a few things on the agenda. One of the things that will be discussed is a potential endorsement," Santorum senior strategist John Brabender told Shushannah Walshe of ABC News on Wednesday. Brabender said Santorum and Romney would meet to talk within the next two to three weeks. (He told MSNBC they might even meet in Philadelphia.)
"The senator takes his endorsement very seriously, and he will want to get some assurance that some of the issues that are very important to him will be important in a Romney administration," Brabender said Wednesday. "That's why I think they need to have a conversation."
They might want to talk, too, about the attack ads still showing as of Thursday night on Santorum's campaign website, with headlines such as "Romney advisor admits Romneycare was blueprint for Obamacare." Or the Santorum fund-raising letter received Monday by Iowa supporters warning that Romney's candidacy would leave the GOP "crippled" in taking on Obama, as the Des Moines Register reported. (A Santorum aide said the letter was sent before he quit the race.)
On the Monday conference call, Santorum was asked if he might ever "un-suspend" his presidential campaign.
"I would just say . . . stay tuned, and we really are serious about making sure that the issues that we brought up during this campaign are continued going forward," Santorum said. "We still have delegates, many of them committed, and we want to make sure that our delegates get a chance to go to the convention and have a say."