A Brand New Top Tier UPDATED

Nobody saw this matchup coming, huh? Former senator Rick Santorum is announcing the suspension of his campaign this afternoon. The Washington Post has the scoop. And the Huffington Post has reactions from Mitt Romney and the RNC.

Sure, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich are still in the race. But Gingrich has all but stopped campaigning and Ron Paul is sort of like Cyber Monday. In other words, he’s huge on the internet, but small in the ballot box.

Let the campaign begin.

UPDATE: CBS News Political Hotsheet reports,

Updated 2:49 p.m. Eastern Time

(CBS News) Rick Santorum suspended his bid for the presidency on Tuesday, removing the last significant obstacle in Mitt Romney’s now all-but-certain march to the Republican presidential nomination.

“We made a decision over the weekend that while this presidential race for us is over for me, and we will suspend our campaign effective today, we are not done fighting,” Santorum said at a press conference in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania Tuesday afternoon.

Santorum did not endorse Romney in making his announcement Tuesday, though he did vow to fight to defeat President Obama and help Republicans win the Senate in the fall.

In a statement, Romney called Santorum “an able and worthy competitor” and congratulated his often-bitter rival for his campaign.

“He has proven himself to be an important voice in our party and in the nation,” said Romney. “We both recognize that what is most important is putting the failures of the last three years behind us and setting America back on the path to prosperity.”

John Brabender, a senior Santorum strategist, said Santorum has spoken to Romney about leaving the race and that Romney has requested a meeting in the “near future.”

Santorum’s campaign had insisted earlier in the day that the former Pennsylvania senator was not leaving the race despite a last-minute decision to cancel his Tuesday morning campaign events. Early Tuesday morning, the campaign announced that Santorum’s three-year-old daughter Bella, who suffers from a genetic condition called Trisomy 18, had been released from the hospital after falling ill over the weekend. The campaign said that the morning events had been cancelled so Santorum could help his family “settle in at home.”

Santorum said Tuesday afternoon that Bella had recovered after a “difficult weekend,” but that the situation “did cause us to think in the role that we have as parents in her life.” He said that “this was a time for prayer and thought over this past weekend,” and that the decision to suspend the campaign had been made during that period.

On his Facebook page just hours before the announcement, Santorum had posted a message that he was “back on the campaign trail” in his home state. He had been set to participate in a “Faith, Family, and American Values forum” at Lancaster Bible College Tuesday evening.

Santorum Press Secretary Alice Stewart says Santorum held an all-call conference call with his staff at 1:45pm today to alert them to his decision.

Read the rest. Also, the Anchoress has thoughts and links as well.


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