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Why hasn't Rick Santorum endorsed Mitt Romney yet?

Rick Santorum dropped out of the GOP race eight days ago. That's more time than Mitt Romney took four years ago to endorse John McCain. But the Pennsylvanian has good reason to hold out.

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Santorum does have some leverage with Romney: He won 11 states and more than 3 million votes in the primaries. Romney needs Republicans to rally around him by donating, volunteering, and ultimately, voting for him. Polls show that in fact, 90 percent of Republicans already say they’re prepared to vote for Romney – the same percentage of Democrats who say they’ll support Obama. So for both men, it’s a question of turning out every last vote, particularly in battleground states, in what is expected to be a tight race.

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On the deficit side of Santorum’s ledger, he has almost $1 million in campaign debt, and is eager to retire it. In his call with supporters, he asked for donations. On Tuesday, he sent out a solicitation email.

Does Santorum want Romney to help retire his debt? John Brabender, a top Santorum adviser, was asked on MSNBC Wednesday.

“I think you will see Rick Santorum as an active participant campaigning this fall, but ... there are some things that have to happen first, to make sure that he’s wanted by the Romney campaign, and we’re going to talk about the issues that conservatives think are very important,” Mr. Brabender replied.

One GOP strategist not involved with either campaign believes Santorum has earned the right to drag out his endorsement – and is very likely looking for both a role at the Republican convention and help retiring his campaign debt.

“I wouldn't say the grace period is over," says the strategist, Ford O’Connell, who thinks Santorum has till June to endorse. “They’re smartly working the Romney camp.”

Santorum is also working out his next steps as a conservative leader – including putting together "a structure" to promote his ideas – and promised on his call with supporters that he would make an announcement in the next two weeks.

And what about those fundraising letters that landed in Iowans’ mailboxes on Monday? The Santorum campaign says those went out before he decided to suspend his campaign.

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