John Baer: Rick Santorum's making the GOP antsy

Posted: March 19, 2012

OK, THIS SANTORUM thing's starting to look scary.

Not for Democrats. They'd love to see Rick as the Republican nominee.

The Democratic National Committee last week pushed a news-media conference call on why Mitt Romney's "wrong for Pennsylvania," clearly suggesting a preference to run against Rick.

But GOP leaders must be antsy.

Going into tomorrow's Illinois primary, Mitt holds a mere single-digit lead over Rick despite outspending him by a reported margin of 7 to 1. This means the man who coined "man-on-dog" remains an apparent alternative to the man known for dog on roof.

Then there's Louisiana's primary on Saturday. How do you think Harvard-educated "hi-ya'll-I-love-cheesy-grits" Mitt does there?

In Pennsylvania, Santorum leads Romney 36-22, according to last week's Quinnipiac Poll. And Rick returns to the state Saturday to speak to the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference, a conservative group gathering outside Harrisburg for an event to which Newt's invited, too.

So halfway through the GOP selection process, there's a two-way Mitt/Rick race and ongoing talk of a brokered convention, although national GOP chairman Reince Priebus told CBS's "Face the Nation" yesterday: "I don't see that happening."

We'll see.

Meanwhile, few doubt that Santorum wins the April 24 primary here in his "home" - though not his native - state.

Fred Anton, long-time head of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, a major sponsor of the conference where Rick's to speak on Saturday, says Santorum's '06 landslide loss to Bob Casey is "no indication of his [Santorum's] popularity within the Republican Party."

Anton hasn't endorsed; says he waiting for Gov. Corbett to endorse.

Corbett hasn't endorsed, though last week said "never underestimate" Santorum.

Santorum's state manager, Brian Nutt, who was Corbett's campaign manager, says in-state polling "shows Republican voters still support Rick Santorum and support his ideas and his plans for the country."

I think Anton, Corbett and Nutt all are right, to a certain extent.

I also think Republicans who fear Santorum atop the November ballot can chill out and rest easy - and for several reasons.

He's not so favorite a favorite son: Romney won Massachusetts with 72 percent of the vote; Gingrich won Georgia with 47 percent; Santorum's at 36 percent in his "home" state.

He's winning in places that won't help the GOP: Rick's states are smaller (none in the top 15 in population) and vote Republican in general elections; Mitt's won five large states that swing or vote Democratic.

The road ahead favors Mitt: Maryland, Wisconsin and D.C. vote before Pennsylvania, and are three places Mitt should do well; on the same day as Pennsylvania, four good-for-Mitt states - Connecticut, New York, Delaware and Rhode Island - will blunt and balance Rick's Pa. win.

Finally, Santorum not only scares moderate and pragmatic Republicans, but many hardcore conservatives here who know him aren't cheering him on.

Several who spoke to me on background reflected the views of Ryan Shafik.

Shafik runs Rockwood Strategies, a Harrisburg-based consulting firm that represents limited-government GOP candidates, and says Rick faces a rocky road.

"Real conservatives know he's a social conservative, not an economic one," says Shafik, who was a Santorum intern when Santorum was in the Senate. "He voted against right-to-work, he voted to expand government, he voted to increase spending, he delivered more pork than Hatfield Meats and he backed Arlen Specter in the primary against Pat Toomey [in 2004]."

There's no question that Republican primary voters so far are a restless and fickle lot. But I think that's about to change.

And when it does, Santorum won't seem so scary; at least not until he returns in 2016.


For recent columns, go to

philly.com/JohnBaer. Read his blog at www.philly.com/BaerGrowls.

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