Mitt Romney's bid for the Republican presidential nomination is now all but assured following Rick Santorum's abrupt departure from the race on Tuesday.
Romney still faces challenges from Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, but neither are considered serious challengers. Gingrich is running on a shoestring budget and is in debt. And although Ron Paul still draws large crowds to town hall meetings, he is not picking up many delegates.

"I think Rick Santorum struck a nerve with the American people, not just [with] conservatives."

- Adolfo Franco, a former adviser to John McCain

It was Rick Santorum's candidacy that ignited the Republican primary race and made the contest particularly brutal. He became the voice of social conservatives, by focusing on a number of their pet issues.
He moved the debate about economic policy further to the right. Santorum campaigned to cut taxes dramatically and, although already campaigning for reductions in taxes, in February Romney followed suit and advocated far more severe cuts.

On social issues, Santorum kept the spotlight on women's rights and the possibility that some religious organisations will be forced to provide reproductive health care coverage for employees. He also firmly opposes gay rights.
And in foreign policy, his hardline agenda helped shift the discussion further to the right. He led the Republican pack in wanting to bomb Iran, and vowed to "beat" China.

Declaring his departure from the race, Santorum said: "While this presidential race for us is over for me ... we are not done fighting. We are going to continue to fight for those voices; we are going to continue to fight for the Americans who stood up and gave us that air under our wings that allowed us to accomplish things that no political expert would have ever expected."

Few people know Santorum as well as John Brabender. He advised him on all five of his congressional races and was the top adviser to his White House campaign. Inside Story: US 2012 asked him if Santorum was in the race simply to use his influence to shift the party to the right. Here is some of what he had to say:

"The problem with Mr Romney is that he has demonstrated over the years that he has no fundamental core. He's reversed himself on issues that are very significant issues that define one's political core. And unlike etcher-sketch where you shake it up and it disappears, we have thousands of hours of Mr Romney on video contradicting himself back and forth, back and forth."

- Mark Siegel, a Democratic strategist

"Not only did [Santorum] win 11 states, he won more counties in the different states than all the other candidates combined, which means that he had strong support in the cities, in the rural areas, in the agricultural areas, small towns. So this really was about winning; this was not just a cause ....

"I'm not sure this is the last time you've heard from Rick Santorum. He's 53 years of age. There are many elections ahead. I think what's a great American story for us is that somebody could do as well as he did on as little money as he did against a lot of other candidates. Rick Santorum was the only one left standing against Romney and I think he is actually a great story for people to understand that you don't always have to be the establishment and you don't always have to be a millionaire in this country."

So what has been the impact of Rick Santorum's candidacy on Republican politics?

To discuss this, Inside Story: US 2012 with Shihab Rattansi is joined by: Adolfo Franco, an adviser to John McCain when he was running for the presidency in 2008; Rick Perlstein, a journalist and author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America; and Mark Siegel, a Democratic strategist who served under President Jimmy Carter and is an expert on delegate selection procedures in the US.

"I think he'd be a perfectly fine talk radio host, but let's mention something very, very blunt that can't be ignored. The fact is in 2006 he lost his senate race with the biggest drubbing that any incoming senator had received since 1980. So the real reason the Republican establishment probably doesn't want to have anything to do with him is not necessarily his positions, although those are embarrassing too, but that he's a loser ....

"The problem with the Republican primary process is that it rewards that sort of zealotry, that sort of peoples' ability to so believe that their candidate or their position is one that is going to save civilisation itself, that they are willing to out-organise the competition. Moderates are the people who don't knock on doors on election day."

Rick Perlstein, a journalist and author

Source: Al Jazeera