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Does Santorum's 2006 Loss Prove He's Unelectable? Does Santorum's 2006 Loss Prove He's Unelectable? Does Santorum's 2006 Loss Prove He's Unelectable? Does Santorum's 2006 Loss...

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The Trail: 2012 Presidential News from the Field / Campaign 2012

Does Santorum's 2006 Loss Prove He's Unelectable?

Six reasons why he lost -- only two of which were beyond his control.

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks at a town hall meeting on the soccer field at Rivier College, Monday, Jan. 9, 2012, in Nashua, N.H.(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

photo of Alex  Roarty
January 10, 2012

Rick Santorum often points to his 16-year run as a Pennsylvania congressman and senator as proof that he has appeal in the swing states that decide presidential elections. He doesn’t bring up the 2006 Senate reelection race he lost by 18 points – the largest Senate loss margin that year and the largest ever in Pennsylvania. But it’s central to the argument, made by pundits and rivals, that he is not electable.

How much of that loss was Santorum’s fault? Some of it had to do with conditions he had no control over. But he created several problems for himself, and some of them are dogging him in the presidential race.

Here are six reasons the man who rose to the No. 3 leadership position in the Senate suffered one of the most humiliating defeats an incumbent has ever endured.

 

1. A Democratic wave. It was a terrible year for the GOP nationally, due largely to chaos and violence in Iraq. Driven by antiwar fervor, many independents turned sharply against Republicans. In 2006, voters unseated five incumbent GOP congressman in the Keystone State alone.

2. Facing Bob Casey Jr. Santorum couldn’t have drawn a tougher opponent. Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey Sr., was one of the most popular elected officials in the state’s history. The Casey name had particular resonance in working-class Western Pennsylvania, where voters admired Casey Sr.’s opposition to abortion-rights, a stance his son shared. Casey ran a low-profile campaign in 2006, avoiding debates and rarely making a peep on the trail, but that was enough. His name did the rest.

3. Being a “culture warrior.” Running statewide in Pennsylvania, which has roughly 1 million more registered Democrats than Republicans, isn’t easy for any member of the GOP. But it’s particularly difficult for a Republican with a reputation for making incendiary remarks about sensitive subjects. The most infamous was his 2003 statement associating gay sex with “man on dog” relations. The comment to the Associated Press earned him the eternal spite of the gay community. It also turned off the moderates who are crucial to carrying the state.

4. His Virginia residence. Santorum won his first congressional campaign by accusing his Democratic incumbent of living in Washington instead of in the district he represented. So imagine the Democratic Party’s glee 16 years later when it was able to use the same argument against Santorum, who was living in Virginia. That opened the senator up not only to charges that he had lost touch with his home state, but that he was hypocritical to boot.

5. Ethics questions. Santorum had to play defense on ethics after a Pennsylvania school district asked him to return $100,000 it had given him for tuition at a local cyberschool, since his children were being home-schooled in Virginia. He also faced questions about his dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff and whether he had been part of an effort to stack “K Street” with Republicans. The issues dented the image of the man who originally made his reputation in Washington as a fierce opponent of congressional corruption.

6. An angry base. Many Pennsylvania activists dispute Santorum’s claim that he’s a true conviction conservative. On social issues, maybe. But many of them regard the senator as a squishy fiscal conservative for supporting earmarks and being part of a GOP Congress that ran up the deficit. Above all, much of the party’s conservative base never forgave Santorum for endorsing centrist incumbent Arlen Specter over the challenger Pat Toomey in the 2004 Republican primary, a move they saw as the ultimate in putting compromise over principle.

 

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