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Win or lose in Wisconsin, Santorum will press on

Chris Moody, Yahoo News
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Rick Santorum gives a thumb up while greeting supporters at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay. (Jae C. …

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If Rick Santorum loses the Wisconsin Republican primary to Mitt Romney Tuesday, whatever you do, do not ask him if he sees it as a signal to drop out of the race. Regardless of what happens, he's not going anywhere.

Over the weekend, Santorum fielded dozens of questions about plans to depart from the primary contest--queries that probably gave the candidate déjà vu from Iowa, when every reporter within earshot of the former Pennsylvania senator tossed him the same question from Sioux City to Muscatine. Meanwhile, a growing chorus of Republicans are calling on him to step aside so the party can coalesce around Romney and begin serious preparations to challenge President Barack Obama.

[Related: Romney predicts he’ll ‘probably’ be the GOP nominee]

But aside from the obvious goal of winning the Republican nomination, Santorum sees his purpose in this fight as something larger. To him, the core values of the party are at stake, and right now, he's the only person in the position to save the GOP from itself.

Speaking to a small crowd of supporters here Sunday night, Santorum said he was ignoring calls to end the primary, saying that "cutting it short and getting the wrong candidate is worse than making this a fight for the heart and soul of America, and the heart and soul of the Republican party."

On the trail, he paints a picture of a long, drawn out battle ahead, comparing it to a basketball game in which the team down by a few points goes home in the middle of the game.

"We're not even at halftime. Not even half the delegates have been selected," Santorum said.  "What does it say about a candidate, who all he does is instead of going out there an playing the game, he sends all those people out there to try and get me to end the game? ...Play the game!"As a matter of arithmetic, however, if Santorum's journey turns out to be an extended one, it's going to be a slog. If Romney wins the primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and D.C.--as he appears poised to, according to recent polls--he could top 600 delegates, furthering his lead over Santorum. To catch up in the race for the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the primary, Santorum would need an extraordinary string of wins in the late fall contests.

[Related: Santorum: A convention fight would be good for the party]

But as Santorum is quick to remind people, he has outmatched the odds before.

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While Santorum says that a victory in Wisconsin will give him the boost to carry him through to the five-state primary on April 24, including his home state of Pennsylvania. It is also clear that he won't need it to survive in the near term. On primary day, he and his staff will be long gone from Wisconsin, with plans to hold an evening rally in Pennsylvania instead. As his home state, it's an important--and necessary--place for him to succeed. One bad night in Wisconsin isn't going to keep him from making it there.

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