Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, left, speaks as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney listens at the South Carolina Republican presidential candidate debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. (Credit: Pool,AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are likely to meet in early May to discuss a Santorum endorsement, his role as a Romney surrogate and conservative policy issues, CNN has learned.
John Brabender, a senior strategist for the Santorum campaign, told CNN that Santorum's goal is to have a policy-oriented session in which he tries to find a "comfort level" about the role "social conservatives, tea party activists and blue collar Republicans will play in the campaign and in the Romney administration." Even so, he said, "we are not walking in there with a litmus test. This is meant to be a candid conversation."
The session will not be "a meeting to endorse (but) a meeting to talk about the endorsement and other maters," Brabender said. Senior aides tell CNN that eventually Santorum will endorse Mitt Romney, and that Santorum will work with Romney to beat President Obama.
What will not happen, Brabender said, is any kind of a quid pro quo that involves an offer of an endorsement in exchange for something from Romney. "I can assure you there will be no quid pro quo as far as Rick Santorum being on the short list (for vice president), no discussion of any talks of Romney helping us with any debt we have, and I doubt there will be any discussion about (Santorum's role) at the convention."
The Santorum campaign last week reported as of the end of March $1.9 million in debt but $1.8 million of cash on hand.
There is clearly a feeling among Santorum advisers that their candidate deserves some deference - even a place on Romney's short list for vice president. "Rick Santorum won 11 states. He won more counties than every other candidate combined. His conservative agenda resonated," Hogan Gidley, a senior adviser to the Santorum campaign, told CNN. "We want assurances conservatism will be strongly represented in the nominee" and will work to "make sure that agenda is heard and represented on the ticket."
As for Santorum's own political future, he's expected to announce his plans early next week, CNN has learned. Given the fact that Santorum has continued to meet and hold discussions with conservative leaders, one possibility: leading a political action committee devoted to electing conservatives.
While Romney would no doubt like to have an immediate Santorum endorsement following any meeting between the two men, senior Santorum aides say that isn't expected to happen. The session will not be "a meeting to endorse, (but) a meeting to talk about the endorsement and other matters," Brabender said.
The Santorum campaign clearly believes its man can be very useful in Romney's presidential campaign. "They need to talk about how to deploy Santorum," Brabender said. "They will talk some politics. Rick knows Pennsylvania and Ohio and I'm sure there will be talk about that."
As far as policy is concerned, Brabender says Santorum wants some answers on some very specific matters. If Obamacare is to be repealed, for instance, conservatives want assurance that mandates would not be part of any replacement. Santorum also wants a discussion of issues like a commitment to balancing the budget, or even American policy towards Iran.
A Romney campaign spokeswoman had no comment on the expected meeting.