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Romney leads in Pennsylvania, upping pressure on Santorum to quit

Rick Santorum’s strategy of betting everything on his home state is looking less and less like a winner.In the wake of defeats in Wisconsin and Maryland

Rick Santorum’s strategy of betting everything on his home state is looking less and less like a winner.

In the wake of defeats in Wisconsin and Maryland Tuesday, Santorum told supporters he’s “ready to charge out of the locker room in Pennsylvania” -- the state he represented for 12 years in the U.S. Senate, and which holds it primary April 24.

But NBC’s Chuck Todd told the Morning Joe gang Wednesday that Santorum backers might well be urging him to quit the race by raising the prospect that he could suffer the ignominy of losing his home state. “That would be an embarrassing way to go out”, Todd said they’re likely telling him.

And a new poll by Public Policy Polling suggests those concerns could be on the mark. It shows Mitt Romney with a 42-37 lead in the Keystone state (pdf) – a massive swing of 23 points in Romney's direction in just the last month.

“The momentum in Pennsylvania is moving completely against Rick Santorum,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “Mitt Romney has a great chance to deliver a final crushing blow to his campaign on April 24th. A home state loss would be incredibly embarrassing for Santorum.”

The poll also offers a sign that Romney – now the all-but-certain nominee – is making inroads with a group that he’d previously struggled to win over: very conservative voters. He trails Santorum by 11 points with such voters – down from a massive 51-point deficit a month ago.

The poll could make it even harder for Santorum to soldier on. “There is increasing speculation that Santorum could potentially get out before Pennsylvania,” if other polls show a similar trend, Jim Vandehei of Politico told Willie Geist on Morning Joe Thursday. ”There’s tremendous pressure on him to rethink staying in here all the way until May.”

Of course, even if Santorum chooses to stick around, he’ll likely draw less and less media attention, since reporters appear to have concluded that he -- like Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul -- no longer has a realistic shot at the nomination, and are pivoting en masse to the general election matchup. So in that sense, when Santorum officially decides to bow out might not matter all that much.