Rick Santorum’s withdrawal today from the 2012 presidential contest makes Texas Republicans, once again, all but irrelevant in their party’s nomination process.
The drawn-out nature of the race had given party activists rare hope that this would be the most competitive presidential primary since 1976, when Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford duked it out in a contest that didn’t end until the party’s convention.
But a legal fight this year over redistricting pushed the Texas primary to May 29 from early March.
“Certainly if we had gone in March, we would have a much larger voice in this process,” Republican Party spokesman Chris Elam said. “It was the federal [redistricting] trial in San Antonio that kept moving our date back.”
Elam pointed out that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul are still in the race.
And Paul, who is visiting his home state this week, made it clear he will stay in the race and attempt to influence the party's deliberation at the convention in Tampa this summer.
"Dr. Paul is now the last — and real — conservative alternative to Mitt Romney," said Paul campaign manager Jesse Benton. "We plan to continue running hard, secure delegates and press the fight for limited, constitutional government in Tampa.”
Still, Santorum was considered the only serious opponent to Romney, who is now expected to coast to the nomination.
Santorum had been hoping that a big bag of delegates from Texas could breathe new life into his campaign, and his supporters pushed a last-ditch effort to make Texas a winner-take-all state. One of the supporters, State Republican Executive Committee member David Bellow, said he would continue pushing that even though his favorite candidate is now out of contention.
“What we’re doing is still good because it will help for future years,” Bellow said.
Elam said that if enough SREC members support the move, the party would still hold an emergency meeting. But the Republican National Committee would have to approve the move. RNC officials say that's highly unlikely.
Tim Von Dohlen, a Santorum campaign organizer and supporter in Texas, said the Lone Star State would have been ripe for a Santorum victory.
“I think Texas would have strongly gone for Santorum," he said. "I think that people will now coalesce behind the Republican nominee."