Associated Press reporter Lara Jakes Jordan did a double take. "I'm sorry, I didn't think I was going to talk about 'man on dog' with a United States senator," she said. "It's sort of freaking me out."
In other words, the cold logic of a law classroom's Socratic free-for-all doesn't translate so well in politics. Santorum will be hearing about "man on dog" for the rest of his career.
As for Corbett, the embattled Republican ignited an unneeded flap at a time when he is trying to overcome low poll numbers and strengthen his chance for reelection in 2014.
Most of the major Democrats seeking to run against Corbett immediately slammed him for insensitivity.
In defending the state's ban on same-sex marriage from a federal lawsuit and pursuing a court order to stop Montgomery County's register of wills from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, Corbett already appeared to be on the wrong side of a shift in public opinion.
In May, a majority of Pennsylvania voters - 54 percent - favored allowing same-sex couples to marry in a Franklin and Marshall College Poll, with 41 percent opposed. That was a dramatic swing from 2006, when the same poll found only 33 percent supporting gay marriage.
"He will lose the Philly suburbs by an unsustainable amount," David Plouffe, senior adviser to President Obama, tweeted Friday.
That may be an optimistic view, but Democratic strategists do see an opportunity to add to their portrayal of Corbett as out of touch and insensitive.
He has had a series of gaffes, including suggesting that many unemployed people prefer government benefits to finding a job, and indicating that women who objected to a proposed mandatory ultrasound before having an abortion could "just close their eyes."
Republican strategists winced Friday but acknowledged that there was little to be done. Corbett is blunt and plainspoken, they said, and you have to take the occasional gaffe with the positive aspects of that style. Grumbling in the GOP about finding another candidate, prevalent a few months ago, has died down. Even replacing the governor at the head of the ticket would not make a difference - even if it were an option - because whoever carried the party banner would be stuck defending his administration's record.
After his remarks Friday, Corbett went into damage control, taping an apology.
"I have always been a lawyer, and I think with my legal head all the time," he said. "Being a politician is second nature, not first nature."
Malcolm Lazin, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Equality Forum, a civil rights organization for LGBT people, said the governor's analogy was "offensive, Neanderthal, and pathetic. . . . This demonstrates we have a governor who is not ready for prime time."
Lazin, a Republican, noted that numerous polls have shown that younger party members are more tolerant and supportive of same-sex marriage, suggesting the GOP is changing.
In an extraordinary postmortem on the 2012 election loss, the Republican National Committee in March declared that the party must shed its image of intolerance, reaching out to minority, immigrant, and gay voters to thrive in the future.
"I think it's about being decent," party chairman Reince Priebus said at the time, when asked how the GOP should deal with same-sex marriage. "I think it's about dignity and respect, that nobody deserves to have their dignity diminished."
Thomas Fitzgerald: >Inquirer.com
See the video of Gov. Corbett comparing same-sex marriage to the union of a brother and sister at