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Former Pennsylvania senator and social conservative firebrand Rick Santorum may have come close to derailing Mitt Romney’s glide to the Republican presidential nomination, but now that he’s quit the race, the big question is how (and not whether) he endorses his former rival.

Having announced that he would end his campaign on April 10, Santorum has kept quiet, spending time with his family and emerging only to discuss his love of fantasy baseball and the need to defeat Barack Obama.

“He’s the person that is going to go up against Barack Obama it’s pretty clear and we need to win this race,” Santorum said of Romney on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” Tuesday. “We need to beat Barack Obama,” he repeated as he warded off multiple attempts by Morgan to get him to formally back Romney.

But even if some are wondering out loud what’s taking so long — Santorum did endorse and campaign for Romney in 2008 over John McCain — the election is still over six months from now, and it would be a mistake to read too much into his silence.

“This is still really early,” said David Karol, an expert on party dynamics at the University of Maryland. “There’s the psychological element. Campaigns are very personal for these guys. Look at how upset [Newt] Gingrich was when the barrage of Super PAC ads landed on him in Iowa. They’re human beings. It’s hard to turn it off the next day.”

As long as he eventually gets in line, then — and a planned meeting with Romney on May 4 suggests he will — Santorum does himself no harm by holding off on an official endorsement.

“He understands political imperative, and he presumably might want to run in 2016 if Romney loses, and in that situation, you want to show you were a good soldier,” said Karol.

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