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Facing political reality, Santorum ends campaign; Exit ensures Romney will get GOP nod

Bowing to the math of the moment, Rick Santorum ended his ailing presidential campaign Tuesday, ensuring Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee in November.

"We made a decision over the weekend, that while this presidential race for us is over, for me, and we will suspend our campaign today, we are not done fighting," the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania announced in a speech here.

Santorum's surprise move came one day after his disabled daughter Bella was released from a hospital in Virginia, where Santorum now lives.

Bella, who suffers from a rare genetic condition called Trisomy 18, had been hospitalized over Easter weekend. After much "prayer and thought" at home, Santorum said, he and his wife, Karen, and children decided it was time to end the campaign.

Saying he had enabled "conservatives to have a voice" in the GOP nominating process, Santorum marveled at the long-shot nature of his campaign, in which he rose to become the strongest remaining challenger to Romney.

"Miracle after miracle, this race was as improbable as any you will ever see for president," he said. "We are not done fighting."

Santorum did not mention Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, in the speech. He spoke instead of gratitude for his supporters.

John Brabender, Santorum's chief strategist, confirmed Santorum talked to Romney before ending his campaign and will be meeting with the likely nominee "in the near future."

But Brabender stopped short of saying whether Santorum will officially endorse Romney.

Republican presidential contenders Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul vowed to stay in the race even though Santorum is not.

Paul's campaign said he is "the last -- and real -- conservative alternative" to Romney.

Gingrich took to Twitter to call Santorum's departure "the last stand for conservatives" and to urge supporters to donate to his campaign.

In a statement, Romney said: "Sen. Santorum is an able and worthy competitor, and I congratulate him on the campaign he ran. He has proven himself to be an important voice in our party and in the nation. We both recognize that what is most important is putting the failures of the last three years behind us and setting America back on the path to prosperity."

In announcing his decision, Santorum spoke of being "fueled" by the stories and struggles of ordinary Americans he met on the campaign trail, particularly the parents of children with special needs who were inspired by Bella and Santorum's role in fighting abortion.

"We were winning," Santorum said, despite the pundits who declared he would never have been the nominee. "We were winning in a very different way, because we were touching hearts and we were raising issues that, frankly, people didn't want to have raised."

His wife, Karen, appeared to be holding back tears as he announced his decision.

"People ask how this happened," Santorum said. It happened, he said, because of the ordinary conservatives for whom he spoke.

"I realized if I felt and understood at a very deep level what you all were going through across America, that your voice could be heard and miracles could happen. And miracles did happen. This race was improbable as any race you will ever see for president. I want to thank God for that and also thank all of you."

Santorum did not campaign Monday so he could be with his daughter, and he canceled the first two campaign events scheduled for Tuesday.

Santorum faced an uphill battle against front-runner Romney in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, and there was a real possibility he could have been humiliated in the Pennsylvania primary April 24.

Romney planned to spend $2.9 million in TV ads in Pennsylvania. But in deference to Bella's illness, Romney's campaign pulled a harsh ad that was running against Santorum in the state.

Santorum carries a photo of Bella and often says she wasn't expected to live beyond her first birthday.

Bella's story is well-known to religious conservatives who back Santorum because of his strong position against abortion.

And that took its toll on Romney. It all started in Iowa, where vote counts initially showed an eight-vote Romney victory -- giving him momentum and headlines. But weeks later, Santorum was declared the winner.

Romney's campaign left Santorum for dead as he beat Gingrich in Florida and won in Nevada. But he lost three states -- Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri -- to Santorum on Feb. 7, breathing new life into the former senator's insurgent candidacy and forcing Romney to compete for two more months. Santorum eventually won contests in Tennessee, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Kansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.