Rick Santorum's withdrawal from the race for the Republican presidential nomination is likely to reduce Republican voter turnout in the York area, one local political expert said, but the leader of York's GOP remains optimistic.
Voters who might have been motivated by the presidential election won't turn out, said political analyst Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs and a professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College.
He said he wasn't sure how Santorum's decision is likely to skew the election or whether it will alienate more conservative or moderate Republican voters, but Santorum would have "brought out more voters who we call 'true conservatives.'"
The former Pennsylvania senator announced Tuesday at The Gettysburg Hotel he was suspending his race, calling last weekend a time "for prayer and thought" after 3-year-old daughter Bella was hospitalized Friday.
When leaving the room, he declined to say whether he would back former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
The announcement clears the way to the Republican nomination for Romney. He was beating Santorum in the delegate count and ahead in at least one poll leading up to the April 24 Pennsylvania primary, even though this is Santorum's home state.
All Romney: With the Republican presidential nomination essentially uncontested, the race in the 4th Congressional District isn't enough to compel voters to turn out, Madonna said.
Though people "like" to vote in contested elections, and there are seven GOP candidates vying for Rep. Todd Platts' seat in Congress, the presidential race is more high profile than what Madonna characterized as an "intra-party" fight for the U.S. House of Representatives.
The people who are likely to turn out now are more hardcore, he said, "voters who are what we call 'strong identifiers,' with strong Republican loyalty."
A 'united front': Bob Wilson, chairman of the York County Republican Party, said Tuesday afternoon he was surprised Santorum withdrew so close to the Pennsylvania primary.
While polls showed Santorum slipping, Wilson said he expected the Pennsylvania man to see the April 24 primary in his home state.
But Wilson said he doesn't think Santorum's withdrawal will affect turnout for the 4th Congressional District race.
"I think those that are engaged and know what's going on want to have their voice heard in that race regardless," he said. "I think you're still going to see a large turnout for the Republican party."
"Rick Santorum is not the only name, and neither is Romney," Wilson said. "There are still other candidates in the race, and quite frankly, Rick Santorum's name is still on the ballot."
He said those intending to vote will still vote, and those who are adamant supporters of Santorum's can still vote for him.
But Santorum's decision means it's time for the Republican party to unite, Wilson said, so they can stand behind one person who will "defeat President Barack Obama."
"And at the end of the day, I think it's going to be a united front on that," he said.
912 Patriots: But the 912 Patriots have a different point of view.
"I know the Republican party doesn't want to hear this, but I fear that people will probably sit on their hands if Romney is the nominee," said Lee Ann Burkholder, communication director for the 912 Patriots, York County's tea party. "People are sick and tired of voting for the lesser of two evils."
She and many other Santorum supporters are considering voting for him regardless of the withdrawal, and some "true conservatives" won't vote, she said.
"In my circles, people were excited Santorum was doing this well this late in the race and Pennsylvanians were going to have a conservative choice," she said. "I'm not crazy about the three remaining candidates. But is it better to support Romney because he'll be the nominee or vote for my conscience...with Santorum?"
Turnout history: Local voter turnout hasn't pushed past 30 percent in the past two presidential primaries, according to the York County Department of Elections and Voter Registration.
In the presidential primary of 2004, during which George W. Bush was unopposed and Democratic candidate John Kerry had a considerable lead, only 18 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of Republicans turned out.
In 2008, when Obama and Hillary Clinton were dueling and Republican John McCain enjoyed a considerable lead, only 22 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of Republicans voted.
Reach Christina Kauffman at 505-5436, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter at @YDYorkCounty.