CARNEGIE, Pa. _ Campaigning at a diner in his former congressional district the day after he lost three primaries, Rick Santorum brushed aside calls to bow out of the Republican presidential race and allow front-runner Mitt Romney to focus on defeating President Obama in the fall.
"I've endured about eight months of people saying that. Everyone has been asking from the days I was driving around (a pickup) truck in Iowa to get out of the race," he said, speaking to reporters after greeting voters at Bob's Diner, and responding to Sen. John McCain's statement earlier in the day on CNN that Santorum had become "irrelevant."
"I've never been the establishment candidate and that holds true till today and that's nothing new," Santorum said.
Still, the former Pennsylvania senator acknowledged that a victory in the state's April 24 primary would be critical to his candidacy.
"We have to win here and we plan on winning here," Santorum said, adding that he believed attacks by Romney and his supporters wouldn't be as successful here as they had been in other states. "The people in Pennsylvania know me. All of the negative attacks are, I think, going to fall on deaf ears here and we have a strong basis of support here and we're going to work very, very hard."
Santorum, who dined on eggs, hot sausage and a specialty local Italian bread, demurred when asked whether he was harming his future political prospects by remaining in the race. He said he hadn't given any thought to his chances to be the GOP nominee in 2016.
"You haven't talked to my wife obviously," he said. "The last thing we're talking about is next time."