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Santorum Choice: Lose National or Lose Local?

Roll Call posed an interesting question today when it asked whether the Democrats were trying to entice Rick Santorum into abandoning his putative presidential candidacy in favor of another crack at the U.S. Senate seat he lost in 2006. The DC publication noted that Public Policy Forum, a Democratic Party polling firm, has issued a new survey showing that Santorum was the most viable challenger to incumbent Sen. Bob Casey, the man who ended the Republican’s Senate career after two terms in a landslide only four years ago.

Santorum currently trails Casey by only seven points, far better than any other potential GOP candidate. While that number isn’t terribly encouraging, it is certainly an improvement over the 17-point margin that he lost by in 2006. The PPF release stated that since polls showed Santorum losing Pennsylvania to President Obama in a head-to-head match-up by a larger margin than he trailed Casey, “Santorum may choose to abandon his exploration of a presidential bid in favor of a rematch of his 2006 loss to now Senator Bob Casey. If he does that, he would at least make it much closer than the rout Casey laid on him four years ago, but he would come little closer than he does against the president.”

The Democrats may be enjoying rubbing Santorum’s nose in these results, but he isn’t giving up his presidential hopes this quickly. Santorum might not have much of a chance of being the GOP nominee in 2012, but in a wide-open race with no clear front-runner, and the field far from being decided (yes, we’re talking about you, Sarah Palin), why shouldn’t he give it a try? His candidacy is based on the idea that he will be a sort of combination of Mike Huckabee and John Bolton: the sole candidate who combines strong social conservatism with vigorous stands on foreign policy. It may be far-fetched, but if you think about it, it’s no loonier than the notion that the Republicans will nominate the man who implemented his own form of the hated ObamaCare health-care legislation (yes, we’re talking about you, Mitt Romney).

More to the point, Santorum knows he has little chance of beating Bob Casey in a rematch even if 2012 turns out to be another Republican year. Casey has flown beneath the radar during his four years in the Senate just as he did when running against Santorum. The polar opposite of publicity-hungry senators like his former colleague Arlen Specter, Casey avoids exposure like the plague. It works for him, as it is hard to pin anything that happens on this mild-mannered son of an immensely popular former Pennsylvania governor. Casey is mildly pro-life and pro-gun while also espousing mildly liberal stands on economic issues. In other words, he’s more or less perfect for Pennsylvania, and it’s unlikely that any big-name Republican will try his or her luck against him in 2012.

Santorum won a Senate seat in the 1994 Republican landslide and was re-elected in 2000 due to a weak opponent and because he spent his first six years in office running to the center and focusing on local needs. But he wore out his welcome at home by spending his second term moving to the right, especially on social issues, due to his burgeoning national ambitions. The point is, he checked out of Pennsylvania politics even before he lost his Senate set. It’s president or nothing for Santorum.


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