CARNEGIE, Pa. — Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, said Wednesday that the state's April 24 primary is a must-win for his presidential campaign but also suggested he'd do well in the Texas primary in late May.
"People in Pennsylvania know me. We've got a strong base of support here, and we're going to work very, very hard," the conservative Republican said of the next three weeks.
Santorum also dismissed questions about his resounding Senate re-election defeat in 2006.
"It's a whole different world this time around," he noted, saying many Pa. residents are now disillusioned with the Obama administration because of policies such as the national health care law.
Santorum shook hands, held babies and had lunch with the owners of a Pittsburgh-area diner a day after he lost three primary battles to Romney.
Santorum and his wife, Karen, now own a home in Great Falls, Va., an affluent Washington suburb. They moved there after Santorum's 2006 Senate loss.
Santorum said the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination could change if he's able to win the Texas primary.
"There's movement in Texas to make Texas a winner-take-all state," Santorum said of the 152 delegates in Texas, adding that if he won that prize, "all of a sudden this race becomes a very different race."
But that hope appears to be a long shot, since the rules in Texas currently call for delegates there to be split proportionally. That means Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, could move closer to the number needed for the nomination even if he loses Texas, or other states with similar rules.
Romney won 86 delegates in the three races Tuesday, which pushed his total to 658 of the 1,144 needed to clinch the nomination. Santorum has 281 delegates.
One Santorum supporter drove all the way from New Jersey for the event. Pat Knight, 55, said she's not comfortable with Romney. Knight, who also attended a nearby Santorum event Tuesday evening, said she believes he can stay in the race until the Republican convention in August.
One man who voted for Obama in 2008 said he likes how Santorum, 53, comes off as a common man.
"I like his youth. I'm impressed with his realness," said Haywood Vincent, 61, a regular at Bob's Diner. Romney is 65.
"His ability to bounce back tells me he has persistence," Vincent said. "I think he's a threat to the whole system. I hope he does become president."