Rick Santorum plans to endorse Mitt Romney in the general election against President Barack Obama, that much is clear. The question is, how strongly will he support his former rival after months of brutal back-and-forth attacks during the Republican primary season?
The answer could become more clear on Friday, when Santorum and Romney plan to meet for a private conversation in Pittsburgh, Pa. It will be the first time the two have met for an extended meeting since Santorum quit the race earlier this year.
The two, who plan to meet alone, have much to discuss.
"There are a lot of issues I know Rick Santorum wants to go over," Santorum strategist John Brabender told Yahoo News in an interview Thursday. Santorum's priorities include ensuring that manufacturing is "critical" to Romney's economic plan, "making sure how conservatives and tea party Republicans will be represented by the campaign" and confirming that any effort to repeal Obama's health care overhaul would not include insurance mandates of any kind.
One issue they won't discuss is Santorum's leftover campaign debt, which Brabender said will be paid off without Romney's help.
Before Santorum announced his exit from the race last month—when it appeared he could draw the primary well into May—there was little restraint in the battle of words between the two camps. Santorum started calling Romney "the worst Republican in the country" to debate Obama on healthcare. At another time, Romney accused Santorum of preferring Obama as president "over a Republican."
Tensions have presumably cooled over the past several weeks, but there is no expectation that the two will stand together in front of cameras after the meeting to sing each others' praises.
"There will be nothing coming out of that that day as far as an endorsement," Brabender said, adding that the enthusiasm of Santorum's support would largely be determined by the meeting. When asked whether Santorum planned to refer to Romney as a "conservative" during the general election, Brabender echoed the words of Newt Gingrich, who on Wednesday offered his own, tepid support of the former Massachusetts governor.
"You have to remember you are comparing Mitt Romney to Barack Obama, possibly on of the most liberal presidents in our country's history," Brabender said. "There's no comparison between the two on the conservative spectrum."
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