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Can Santorum Win Pennsylvania?

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santorum faith pix.jpgHere are two questions about Rick Santorum, one concrete, the other highly theoretical.

The concrete one is: Can he win the Republican presidential primary in Pennsylvania on April 24? The answer is yes.

Here is why.

The Republicans who will be showing up to vote will be the core of Santorum's base, the folks who stuck by him through thick and thin the three times he ran for the U.S. Senate.

Even in his darkest days (read: 2006) when Santorum was in the process of losing re-election to Bob Casey by 18 percentage points, the conservative GOP base stood by their man.

In a CNN poll of Pennsylvania voters taken on Election Day in 2006, Santorum lost to Casey among every known segment of voters except for three: voters who identified themselves as Republican (Santorum got 86% of that vote); conservatives (80%) and Evangelicals (59%)

Some more math:  there are 3 million Republicans voters in Pennsylvania.  I expect turnout on April 24 to be a max of 30 percent and it could be lower. This means there will be 1 million Republicans voting that Tuesday and most of them will be conservatives.  Rick will be their man.

The only hope Mitt Romney has of winning is to generate a lot of votes in the Philadelphia area in southeastern Pennsylvania.  There are about 830,000 Republicans living in those four counties (Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery) or about 27 percent of the total GOP electorate. This is the home base of many moderates who would be more likely to support the former Massachusetts governor.  I don't see evidence of a lot of enthusiasm among these Republicans for Romney, though, since he's doing such a good job of pretending he's a conservative.

Besides, a lot of moderate-progressive Republicans have bailed and joined other parties. There are 200,000 fewer Republicans in the Philly area today than in 2000.

Now for the theoretical question: If, by chance, Santorum is nominated can he win Pennsylvania in the general election on Nov. 6? The answer is no.

Here is why.

Not to highlight the obvious, but the voter pool in November will include Democrats (4.1 million) and independents (1 million). Together, they constitute 63 percent of the electorate and Santorum has not done well among these voters, to say the least.

In 2006, for instance, he got only seven percent of the Democratic vote, according to the CNN exit poll and 28 percent of the independent vote.

With his hard-right stands on social issues, he will find it particularly hard to crack through to the moderate-to-liberal voters in the Philadelphia region. Anchored by relentlessly Democratic Philadelphia (Santorum got 16% in the city in 2006), the region has tilted Democratic in the last 20 years. Obama got 64 percent of the vote in the eight-county media market in 2008 (an area that includes Philly, the four suburban counties and three counties in the Lehigh Valley.) Face-to-face with Santorum, he will get 64 percent again in November.

Turnout to be lower this year than in 2008, but the margin will be the same.

In western Pennsylvania, which is Santorum's home base, Obama got 50 percent of the vote in 2008. I believe he could improve his margin this year, mostly because of the lingering unhappiness in the Pittsburgh area over various personal issues dealing with Santorum -- such as his residency -- and because of what is gently called his AA-factor (as in arrogant asshole).

This is why most Republican leaders in Pennsylvania support Romney. He's the candidate with the best chance to lure swing voters and independents, especially in the Philly and Pittsburgh suburbs. If he was running as a moderate (and he'll certainly do his best to morph into one for the general election), he fits the profile of the kind of Republican candidates who can win statewide in Pennsylvania: Think Arlen Specter, Dick Schweiker, John Heins, Govs. Tom Ridge and Dick Thornburgh.

Santorum has no reach among these moderate, independent and Democratic voters and he's not going to get it between now and November.

In fact, the traits that make Rick Santorum so popular among red-meat Republicans are the same ones that make him anathema among Democrats and independents, especially the large core of women voters.

In 2006, confronted with two anti-abortion Catholic candidates for the U.S. Senate, women voters favored Bob Casey by 22 percentage points over Santorum. (62% vs. 39%).

When the history of this campaign is written, someone will have to devote a chapter to the Republicans and contraception. It should be titled "Death Wish." No pun intended, but that issue is a poison pill for the party's candidate, regardless of who he is. If it is Santorum, woe betide the Republicans in the fall.

Not to go all biblical on you, but the wrath of women will be like a refiner's fire.

-- Tom Ferrick

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