Power grows for Santorum, Specter as GOP triumphs Pa.'s senators are looking forward to new duties. But they'll also work with a Democratic governor.

Posted: November 07, 2002

WASHINGTON — Rick Santorum stayed up until 6 a.m. yesterday nervously watching election returns for the final word on whether the South Dakota Senate seat had moved into Republican hands.

He logged on to CNN's Web site, and he talked repeatedly by phone with the Republican candidate, John Thune. Thune wound up losing by the barest of margins. But enough Republicans won Tuesday night to put a weary Santorum back in power.

The Republican senator from Pennsylvania had a huge stake in Tuesday's elections, having raised more than $1.3 million for GOP candidates in hopes of wresting control of the Senate from the Democrats.

His party triumphed, and now Santorum's sway over legislation stands to grow, as will fellow Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter's. For the rest of the Delaware Valley congressional delegation, the election results were not nearly as dramatic. House Republicans remain in the majority, albeit a strengthened one.

On the New Jersey side, Frank Lautenberg was in the minority when he retired from the Senate two years ago and will be in the minority when he returns to that body two months from now. Ranit Schmelzer, a spokeswoman for Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, said yesterday that a review was underway to determine whether Lautenberg would be given freshman status or whether he would be credited with the 18 years of seniority he had accumulated before retiring.

Seniority plays a major role in divvying up everything from Senate office space to committee chairmanships.

As chairman of the Senate's Republican conference, Santorum resumes a leadership role in the majority party - something he lost when Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont left the GOP last year, putting Democrats in control.

Santorum is set to join the Finance Committee, a prestigious assignment that carries great influence over taxes, trade, Medicare and Social Security. He is leaving the Armed Services Committee for the post.

"About two-thirds of the money we spend goes through that committee," Santorum said yesterday. "This is the big Kahuna committee. It's taken me a while to get on it."

Specter's influence is also on the rise. He expects to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee by spring 2004, taking over from Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R., Utah), who would step down under a rotation set up by the Republicans. The chairmanship would give Specter an important role in vetting of Supreme Court nominees.

"It's good news for Pennsylvania that we have two high-profile Republican senators in what is now a Republican Senate, with a Republican administration," said Peter Peyser, a former lobbyist in Washington for Philadelphia.

Of Santorum, Specter said: "We haven't had a Finance member [from Pennsylvania] since John Heinz was killed in 1991. These are all positive developments. And I'm moving up in seniority" on the Appropriations Committee.

What's less clear is how the two Republican senators will get along with the new Democratic governor. Cooperation at that level is important to keeping projects flowing to the state.

Ed Rendell and Specter have a long history. As a young prosecutor, Rendell worked for Specter in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.

Santorum's relationship is rockier. Santorum said yesterday that Rendell had worked twice to defeat him, once in the 1994 Senate race, when Rendell was mayor, and again in 2000, when Rendell was chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Still, Specter predicted the two would work well together.

"I've been in meetings with the two of them and they're very cordial," Specter said. "Rick might not like my saying this, but I think he's moderated a good bit over the years."

Philadelphia will enter the new year with its clout diminished. The city district that had been represented by Rep. Robert A. Borski for the last 20 years has been redrawn so that it is part of a sprawling new 13th District that includes Montgomery County. It is represented by Joseph M. Hoeffel, who defeated Flourtown ophthalmologist Melissa Brown. The concern is that Hoeffel's attentions will be divided. Philadelphia's two members of Congress are Reps. Robert A. Brady and Chaka Fattah, both Democrats.

One member of Congress said that with, in effect, 2 1/2 representatives rather than three, Philadelphia needed to forge stronger ties to suburbia.

"What Philadelphia should do and hasn't done in the last several years - neither under Rendell or [Mayor John] Street - is reach out to suburban members of Congress," said Republican James Greenwood, who represents Bucks County. "There's virtually none of that. I don't think I ever had a meeting with Ed Rendell in eight years and was never invited to do anything with Mayor Street. That's unfortunate. There are regional things we could work on that could benefit the city and suburbs."

Contact Peter Nicholas

at 202-383-6046 or pnicholas@krwashington.com.

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