NOW THAT the Elmer Gantry tent-revival that's Rick Santorum's campaign finally is collapsing, he should fold it up and forgo his unofficial home-state primary.

I say unofficial because he was born in Virginia and lives in Virginia, although he represented Pennsylvania for 16 years - four in the House, 12 in the Senate.

I say forgo because losing or narrowly winning our April 24 primary after such long representation amounts to a huge embarrassment.

Heck, even born-in-Pennsylvania Newt won his unofficial home state of Georgia with 47 percent of the vote.

Three current independent polls - Mercyhurst, Quinnipiac and F&M - show Rick short of that, and Mitt Romney trailing here by only two to six points after trailing last month by nearly 20.

Rick, of course, won't walk away. He didn't get to be Rick Santorum by standing down. He has no interest in coalescing behind a nominee to oppose President Obama. And he's clearly incapable of embarrassment.

So despite his Tuesday loss in Wisconsin and severe shrinkage in Pennsylvania, he will soldier on.

To some extent, this reflects a personal drive that's served him well in his unlikely bid following a stunning 17-point Senate loss in 2006.

To a larger extent, it reflects a near-delusional self-assessment that blames other people and circumstances for his own political failings.

As is often the case in politics, assets can be liabilities.

For example, after winning eight primaries last month, including a southern sweep of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, he was poised to cause major hurt to Mitt in Illinois.

He offered strong anti-Romney arguments on health care and a solid-sounding "Made in America" plan to jump-start blue-collar jobs by eliminating corporate-income taxes on manufacturers.

Such a message appeals to industrial northern states, Illinois included.

But he failed in the Land of Lincoln, I believe, by losing control of the message and stretching too far to the right on issues and comments that got widely reported: Contraception is harmful to women and society; the president's a "snob" for pushing higher education; JFK's separation of church and state made him want to vomit.

Rick is tied to social/religious issues, while economic issues drive the electorate.

But he's also tied to his roosterlike personality, an aura of intolerance and rigidity of temperament that does not play as presidential.

Plus he offers flawed reasoning when addressing his own shortcomings.

He repeatedly notes that his wins and second-places come despite lack of funding and organization, ignoring the fact that successful politics is built on funding and organization.

He constantly cites adherence to principle: He told the Conservative Political Action Conference in February that such adherence is better than "a hollow victory in November," ignoring the fact that success in politics is actually defined by victory.

He says that Abraham Lincoln lost a Senate race prior to winning the presidency, ignoring the fact that in Lincoln's time, legislatures - not voters - elected senators.

And he explains slippage in a Pennsylvania poll by calling the pollster a "Democratic hack," ignoring the fact that the pollster - Terry Madonna, of Franklin & Marshall College - does no partisan polling and owns a two-decades-plus reputation for accuracy, including in Santorum's own Senate races.

Almost every politician makes gaffes. Obama once said that he campaigned in 57 states. But these are not gaffes. They are windows into Santorum's reality.

If his interest is in pointing the country in a new direction by replacing the incumbent, he'll step aside and endorse the GOP candidate best-positioned to do so.

If his interest is in promoting himself and his theocratic worldview, he'll remain true to the cause, the only cause: the cause of Rick Santorum.

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