Rick Santorum and Pennsylvania

2012-04-12 08:56
As you have most likely heard Rick Santorum packed in his run for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination on Tuesday. Although Santorum may have been tempted to drop the campaign to spend time with his ill daughter, who spent time in hospital over the weekend, his timing was nonetheless beneficial in other ways. 

Pennsylvania, his home state, would have voted on 24 April for its preferred Republican candidate and if Santorum had lost, which polls indicate was the probable result, his political future would have been pretty limp. Former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, who now presents the breakfast show on pinko cable news channel MSNBC, said last week that if he was nomination-favourite Mitt Romney, he would “salt the earth” in Pennsylvania. Ie: carpet bomb the state with negative adverts and finish Santorum’s political career. Romney must have been listening, as he promptly went and purchased $1.9m worth of advertising space.

And Romney wasn’t messing about. The advert quotes Politico calling Santorum’s 17-point Senate loss in 2006 “historically embarrassing”, mentions he lost his home county (in Pittsburgh) by 30 points in the same vote, quotes a reporter saying he lost every single voter demographic, and then ends by saying “we fired him as Senator, why promote him to President?” Ouch. Santorum led in Pennsylvania throughout the primary race, until Romney won two competitive states and Washington, DC a week ago, and took a poll lead of around five percentage points.

Santorum can survive losing Pennsylvania once. There is no way he could have continued a career in federal politics if he had lost it twice. And since Republicans tend to give the presidential nomination to the bloke who lost the previous primary, it is in Santorum’s best interest to make sure he doesn’t lose Pennsylvania this time around.

However, Santorum is not quite the Mister Popular in Pennsylvania that one would expect of someone who served in the House of Representatives for four years and won two terms in the Senate. In fact I can think of few more divisive politicians in the US at all.

Santorum is a severely conservative man, particularly when it comes to social conventions. Santorum has voiced vociferous rejection of gay marriage, abortion and contraception (although, to be fair, he maintained he would not push for his personal beliefs on contraception to become policy). While many politicians have conservative views on social issues and are happy to tell them to you, not many make as big a stink about them as Santorum. Comparisons with same-sex marriage and marrying an animal, and telling CNN that rape victims who become pregnant should “accept the gift that God has given to you” instead of being offered a pregnancy termination, belong in the comment sections of news sites, not presidential politics. His well-known social views are but the fairly sizeable tip of the iceberg.

During his Senate re-election campaign against Democrat Bob Casey Junior in 2006 (the aforementioned 17-point loss), Santorum was forced to answer why he would be representing Pennsylvania, as he only spent around one month per year in his home in the state. His family spent the rest of the year in a larger home in Virginia, around four hours away. While this on its own raises eyebrows, the Pennsylvania taxpayer footed a $100 000 bill in a cyber charter school for the education of some of the Santorum children between 2001 and 2004, which included computers and an Internet connection. Because Santorum had a role in federal government, the education tab was picked up by Pennsylvania, but as Santorum lived in Pennsylvania for a mere 8% of the calendar year, the cost wasn’t really all that justifiable. Add to this the fact that Santorum had previously (and correctly) criticised a rival for not living in his voting district.

Lobbyists are enough to hurt any elected official’s credibility, and Santorum’s involvement with them did him no favours whatsoever. According to Reuters, in 2001 during his senatorial reign, Santorum was holding meetings with lobbyists every second Tuesday. His income for 2010, detailed on his tax returns released to the public, included payments from lobbying firms, an energy company and a hospital conglomerate that was sued by the federal government. Santorum sat on the board of the hospital conglomerate from 2007 as it was being investigated by the federal government for “illegal compensation to doctors in order to induce them to refer patients to hospitals within the group”, and for invoicing for treatments that were not provided. While none of this happened while he was a senator, he became an official lobbyist or employee for organisations which benefited from his voting record while in office.

Santorum also managed to tank within his own party when he backed the moderate Republican Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania’s Senate election in 2004, instead of the far more conservative Pat Toomey (who has since succeeded Specter). Santorum attempted to defend the decision because Specter was on the Senate committee on the judiciary, meaning he had a say in the appointment of Supreme Court judges. This endorsement was a spectacular failure, as Specter’s presence on the committee could not prevent the swearing on of liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in May 2010. To make matters worse for Santorum’s reputation, Specter also changed parties and announced he was a Democrat in 2009.

So while Santorum may look for home-grown support should he launch a presidential bid in 2016 or 2020, I am not sure he should be banking on a solid win in Pennsylvania, where there remains a lot of lingering resentment.
Read more on:    simon williamson  |  mitt romney  |  rick santorum  |  us  |  us elections 2012

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