Philadelphia Metropolis


He's Baaack!

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Santorum.jpgNow comes Rick Santorum's 15 minutes in the limelight.

His showing in Iowa this week guarantees that.  With little money and no organization to speak of, the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania placed second in the Iowa caucuses, just eight votes behind winner Mitt Romney.

It is easy to see the appeal of Santorum to the conservative Iowa voters who participated in the caucuses.  He is a true-blue conservative whose brand of Catholicism is not far from the beliefs of evangelical Christians: against abortion, gay marriage, loose morals and the wicked, wicked ways of the 21st Century.  (Santorum has one of the finest minds of the 13th Century.)

But, above all, he is not Mitt Romney.

And the conservative/tea party/God-fearing folks who make up the Republican primary electorate are thrashing around looking for an alternative to Romney who is too, um, centrist? Eastern? Mormon? blow-dried? for them.  These days, centrist in the Republican party means anyone who doesn't want to deport Barack Obama for being an alien Muslim.

There are two traits that will stand Santorum well in the coming weeks:

One. He is an astute politician, who understands the whims and ways of Republican voters and of politics in general. he is hard working and a good campaigner. But, he is not -- by any stretch of the imagination -- an outsider.  When he was in the U.S. Senate, he showed a willingness to play the game with lobbyists for special interests.  And he wasn't above using his leadership position to bring the bacon back to Pennsylvania -- sometimes for public works, sometimes for state business interests.

Two. He is an angry man.  I don't know the source of Santorum's anger, given that he has led a successful and fairly comfortable life, but it is there.  He is not only against gay rights, for instance, he is downright pissed off about the issue.  And if you do not buy into his Rise of Islamo-Facism theories he will declare you an spineless idiot who doesn't grasp the reality of global politics. He does not suffer fools gladly, even if they are everyday voters.

It is that anger -- and his hard-right agenda -- that appeals to the equally angry, hard-right primary Republicans.

But, those are the same traits that eventually made Pennsylvania voters sour on him. In 2006, facing the acceptable, centrist and likeable Bob Casey Jr., Santorum lost re-election by a margin of 708,000 votes.

It was a blow out. Even more important it was a blowout despite the fact that Santorum spent $21 million on his campaign, saturating the airwaves with commercials. He ran a  campaign without any major gaffes. Yet, he ended up losing by 18 points, which was close to the margin 20-point margin Casey had in the first public opinion polls.

In the east, he was anathema because of his politics.  In his homebase in the west, he had lost voter favor because he was considered arrogant and out of touch -- too Washington insider for thier taste.

So, it raises this -- excuse me -- practical political consideration when it comes to a Santorum candidacy. If he has been repudiated in his home state, which is relentlessly centrist, how can he win in a head-to-head with Obama?

I don't think he could carry Pennsylvania against Obama. He is too conservative for the southeast (which is where 42 percent of the voters reside) and his appeal in his home area of Pittsburgh has worn thin, due to various antics dealing with his residency and his attitude.

In 2006, Casey beat Santorum in Allegheny County 65-35. And he won Philadelphia 84-16. I don't see Obama coming close to matching that margin in Allegheny County, but he would in Philadelphia. And Obama will also win the Philadelphia suburbs -- not because people there love him, they just dislike Santorum more. (Casey won all the Philadelphia suburban counties in 2006, even traditionally Republican Chester County.)

Finally, it will be a lot easier for Obama to move to the center than Santorum. Among independent and moderate voters, Santorum will be saddled with his conservative record in the Senate. There is also the record that will be left with his mandatory pandering during primary season to the Republican base.

In sum, Santorum is a smart politician with an anger level that appeals to Republican primary voters. But, if you want to peer a little ahead, ask yourself this if you are a Republican: How can he win nationwide if he can't even carry his home state?

-- Tom Ferrick

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