The three sisters from Penn Hills, Pa., expected to see some history during their family visit to Gettysburg this week. But they never anticipated getting such an up-close view of history in the making.

The sisters were among just a few members of the public allowed to squeeze into the crowded Thaddeus Stevens Room at the Gettysburg Hotel to witness Rick Santorum announce his withdrawal from the presidential race during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

"I heard a newsman on the street saying something to someone else. He said it was by invitation only, but I was still going to check it out," said Dorothy Kurimsky, who was touring Gettysburg with her sisters Joann Roberts and Peggy Erro. "I hit upon the room and saw all the people and said, 'This is it.' "

For Kurimsky, a strong Santorum supporter, seeing the former senator from Pennsylvania in person was a surprising treat, even though his announcement was not what she wanted to hear.

"I like his message of faith, family and freedom," said Kurimsky, who now lives in San Diego. "I follow everything, all this stuff. Politically, this is important. The kind of change (President) Obama has given us is not the kind of change we want."

"I thought (Santorum) really had a chance," said Roberts, who still lives in Penn Hills, where Santorum has one of his homes. "I thought he was so down to earth. I guess he really loved his family."

Three weeks after appearing at a campaign rally in Gettysburg, Santorum returned there to announce he was ending his unlikely bid for the presidency. Santorum cited the ill health of his 3-year-old daughter, Bella, who was hospitalized over the weekend, as part of the reason for his withdrawal.

"This was a time for prayer and thought over this past weekend," said Santorum, who added that the decision to suspend the campaign had been made with his family during that period.

But Santorum also faced an almost insurmountable lead by rival candidate Mitt Romney, who has more than twice as many delegates in the drive for the Republican Party presidential nomination.

Santorum did not endorse Romney during his announcement, though he did promise to continue efforts to unseat President Obama.

"The game is a long, long way from over. We are not done fighting," said Santorum, who was flanked by his wife, Karen, and four of his children.

Santorum's announcement drew mixed reactions from onlookers hoping to get a glimpse of the former candidate in an alley behind the Gettysburg Hotel after the news conference.

Michelle Hendry, of Albany, said it was a "bittersweet day," but better in the long run for the Republican Party that Santorum dropped out.

With his wife, Karen, by his side, Republican Rick Santorum announces his withdrawal from the presidential race at the Gettysburg Hotel Tuesday afternoon.
With his wife, Karen, by his side, Republican Rick Santorum announces his withdrawal from the presidential race at the Gettysburg Hotel Tuesday afternoon. (THE EVENING SUN BRETT BERWAGER)

"As an American, I just wanted to get on with the right candidate," she said. "Right now, I want people to start focusing on what we have to do to get America back on track.

"I'm not enthusiastic about Romney, but I think he is a good man," Hendry said. "He's a successful man. Hopefully, he's the future of America."

"I think (Santorum) had good messages. It was interesting how the process played out," said Chad Fabuss, who is studying economics and political science at Gettysburg College. "You got to know who Mitt Romney was; you got to know who Rick Santorum was. Ultimately, Santorum ran out of money. That's what apparently happens in politics nowadays."

For Fabuss and other political observers, Santorum's withdrawal, two weeks prior to the Pennsylvania primary, was no surprise.

"I think the campaign was over," said Harry Fones, a Gettysburg College freshman. "Romney, we have to support him."

"Romney has such a sizable lead heading into New York and Delaware. Pennsylvania was Santorum's last stand," Fabuss said. "As the numbers started heading in Romney's favor, it became pretty obvious it wasn't going to work (for Santorum)."

Some waiting in that breezy alleyway were more than happy to see the polarizing Santorum step aside.

"When I found out about this, it was grab the flag off the wall and walk on up," said Mike Delue, a Gettysburg College senior who held a rainbow-striped "pride" flag. "I've been waiting around for two hours.

"Ultimately, I'm glad to see him out of the race, although it certainly would be easier for Obama to beat Santorum than Romney," he said.

After Santorum pulled away with his motorcade, speculation turned to how the presidential race will play out now without him.

"Ultimately, you support the party and not the candidate," Fabuss said.

"Middle-of-the-road Romney, middle-of-the-road Obama," Delue said. "It puts everything in the hands of those that will swing with one or the other."

While Kurimsky said she has "reservations" about Romney, she'll reluctantly support him in the general election come November.

"If nothing else, I will vote for Romney," she said.

cpaskoski@eveningsun.com; 717-637-3736, extension 147