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Posted at 08:31 AM ET, 03/28/2012

Santorum: Heading for a loss in Pennsylvania?

It would be painful to watch, but somehow appropriate if it was his home state, where he received a drubbing in 2006, that ended Rick Santorum’s dreams of the presidency. A new poll suggests that is exactly where he is heading unless Santorum leaves the race before April 24.

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review, his home town paper, reports:

With the state primary four weeks away, Santorum now finds himself nearly tied with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney among the state’s Republicans, and support is eroding rapidly, according to a Franklin & Marshall College poll out today.
“The real Rick Santorum has emerged,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll.
“Santorum ran a disciplined campaign for eight months, but a month ago he began veering off message into all these cultural and social issues,” Madonna said, referring to flare-ups over women in combat and contraceptives. “That may help with his core voters, but they’re already with him. This is supposed to be about expanding your base.”
The poll of 505 registered Republican voters, conducted March 20-25 in conjunction with the Tribune-Review and other media outlets, shows Santorum clinging to a small lead over Romney, 30 percent to 28 percent, within the poll’s 4.2 percent margin of error.

It is very conceivable Santorum will continue to sink in the polls, as it becomes more obvious that Mitt Romney is statistically the only candidate able to capture 1,144 delegates. Santorum’s “plan” requires that he drag the party through a contentious convention, delay the general-election campaign and come up with a nominee (him) that is not the choice of the vast majority of Republican primary voters. That reality is not likely to sit well with Republicans in Pennsylvania or elsewhere.

Indeed, Pennsylvania is not a particularly hospitable place for Santorum. Like Illinois, there are big metropolitan areas with affluent suburbs, the sort of demographic arrangement in which Romney has consistently done very well. There is a large Catholic population, a group that Santorum has, ironically, done poorly with.

There was a reason Santorum not only lost but lost by 18 points in 2006. Yes, it was a tough year for Republicans, and, yes, he took a hit for supporting the Iraq war. But in fact he had moved too far to the right for his home state and developed the reputation as an aggressive, harsh pol.

It also did not help that he found himself caught up in a residency scandal. Byron York recalled: “When he moved to Virginia, Santorum also kept his home-schooled children in a program run by the Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. That cost Pennsylvania taxpayers thousands of dollars a year, and some of Santorum’s political opponents demanded he reimburse the state. ‘Just pay the money back,’ Casey said to Santorum in one debate. ‘You ripped off the taxpayers. Pay it back.’ Santorum declined, and an adjudicator ruled in his favor, but at the very least the school issue highlighted the fact that Santorum had left Pennsylvania behind.” Since leaving the Senate, he’s lived in a tony suburb in Northern Virginia, in a $2 million house purchased for him by a trust funded by a homebuilder executive.

The central problem remains for Santorum: His increasingly angry routine is precisely the kind of behavior that turned off Pennsylvanians in 2006. The Wall Street Journal reported in January:

“Anytime someone is rejected by home-state voters, it will give other voters pause,” said Jim Roddey, chairman of the GOP in Allegheny County, Pa., who called 2006 “a real liability.” Voters “will say, ‘What do they know about him that we don’t?’ “ he added. Mr. Roddey has worked with Mr. Santorum and considers him a friend, but is backing Mr. Romney. . .
In 2006, Democrats went after Mr. Santorum from Day One, hoping his intense social conservatism and history of making controversial statements would make him vulnerable in a politically moderate state.
He played a key role in the national debate over whether to maintain medical treatment for Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman in a persistent vegetative state. He said the child-sex scandal involving Catholic priests was centered in Boston because it was a liberal town, and he made controversial remarks critical of homosexuality.
In Mr. Santorum’s book, “It Takes a Family,” which came out shortly before the 2006 campaign, he said, among other things, that “radical feminism” was responsible for some women working outside the home. A Casey ad dinged him by quoting a woman saying many families need two incomes to survive.

Santorum, for now, is intent on going forward. However, if he loses three races on April 3 and sees his polling numbers tumbling in Pennsylvania, he will need to consider whether he wants to risk being rejected twice by his home state. It would be, in human terms, devastating, but as a practical matter it would also cement his reputation a a guy who is his own worst enemy and simply doesn’t know when to fold on a losing hand.

By  |  08:31 AM ET, 03/28/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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