San­to­rum seen as sym­bol of a sys­tem he vowed to top­ple

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Charles Hurt

First of an oc­ca­sional se­ries

PITTS­BURGH — When Sen. Rick San­to­rum was first elected to Congress 16 years ago, he was among the fire­brand con­ser­va­tives who mapped out the Repub­li­can Revo­lu­tion to slash gov­ern­ment spend­ing and end po­lit­i­cal ca­reerism in Wash­ing­ton.

To­day, the Penn­syl­va­nian is the third-rank­ingRepub­li­canintheSe­nate. But the Repub­li­can Revo­lu­tion isover, and­he­faceso­ne­of­thetough­est re-elec­tion cam­paigns in the coun­try.

Typ­i­cal of his cam­paign­ing th­ese days was a stop ear­lier this month at the Pitts­burgh Zoo, where he boasted to lo­cal re­porters about how he’d fetched $500,000 from fed­eral tax­pay­ers to build one of the most lux­u­ri­ous po­lar-bear ex­hibits out­side Arc­tic climes.

“They’re build­ing un­der­wa­ter tun­nels so you’re ac­tu­ally un­der wa­ter,” Mr. San­to­rum told his awestruck chil­dren as they toured the con­struc­tion site and ap­proached a tun­nel of 4-inch glass that will al­low zoo vis­i­tors to view the bears from be­low.

In Novem­ber, Mr. San­to­rum faces state Trea­surer Bob Casey Jr., a con­ser­va­tive Demo­crat who says Mr. San­to­rum has lost touch with the vot­ers who first elected him and ac­cuses him of help­ing usher in a new and deeper era of fis­cal ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity.

The race is viewed by many — in­clud­ing Mr. San­to­rum — as one of the big­gest chal­lenges fac­ing a Repub­li­can in­cum­bent na­tion­wide as Democrats seek six seats to gain con­trol of the cham­ber. Mr. San­to­rum, chair­man of the Se­nate Repub­li­can Con­fer­ence, says Democrats want re­venge for Repub­li­cans’ 2004 top­pling of Mi­nor­ity Leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota.

Af­ter the zoo event, Mr. San­to­rum was asked whether fund­ing for the po­lar-bear ex­hibit re­ally was all that im­por­tant, given the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s hem­or­rhag­ing debt, loom­ing fi­nan­cial cri­sis in en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams and ex­pen­sive emer­gen­cies, such as the war in Iraq and re­build­ing af­ter Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina.

“If the pot of money is there, I’m go­ing to make sure we get a piece of that money,” said Mr. San­to­rum, who de­fended his record of sup­port for “lean” bud­gets.

“The fed­eral gov­ern­ment does fi­nance ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams with re­spect to bi­ol­ogy and zo­ol­ogy and a whole host of ar­eas that we think is im­por­tant for our chil­dren,” he said. “Is that an im­por­tant thing? Well, you know, yeah, it prob­a­bly is.”

That’s the wrong an­swer for some of his long­time sup­port­ers.

“Where does the fed­eral gov­ern­ment get the con­sti­tu­tional right to take $500,000 from peo­ple to build a po­lar-bear ex­hibit?” asked Char­lie Clift, who has sup­ported Mr. San­to­rum in ev­ery past elec­tion.

‘Lost touch’

To be sure, con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans such as Mr. Clift, who lives in Buck­sCoun­tynorth of Philadel­phia, aren’t up­set at Mr.San­to­rum­sim­ply be­causehe di­rected fed­eral fund­ing for the po­lar-bear ex­hibit. They say that af­ter 16years in Wash­ing­ton,he has “lost touch” with the vi­sion of smaller, more re­spon­si­ble fed­eral gov­ern­ment that he promised.

And while Mr. Casey has not proved him­self any more loyal to such be­liefs, his cam­paign is cer­tainly cap­i­tal­iz­ing on con­ser­va­tive dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Mr. San­to­rum.

A fa­vorite line in Mr. Casey’s stump speech is that Mr. San­to­rum has stead­fastly op­posed­in­creases in the fed­eral min­i­mum wage even as he has voted three times to raise his own salary.

It gets worse­when Caseystaffers dredge up state­ments that Mr. San­to­rum made 16 years ago that he would­n­ev­er­ac­cep­ta­payraise,even a cost-of-liv­ing adjustment.

“The pub­lic is fed up with mem­bers of Con­gresshav­ingno lim­its on their abil­ity to in­crease their salaries,” the As­so­ci­ated Press quot­edMr.San­to­rum­sayin­gin1990. “And mem­bers do not seem will­ing to­vol­un­tar­ily limit their salaries like I have, vow­ing never to ac­cept any more salary than what is pro­vided upon tak­ing of­fice.”

To­day, Mr. San­to­rum has come down from the ram­parts.

“I be­lieve that mem­bers of Congress should, by and large, re­ceive cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ments,” he said when asked about Mr. Casey’s charges.“Ifwe’d left the­salary­what it was when I first took of­fice, we’d be get­ting a third of the value of the dol­lar than what I got when I came in.”

It’s an is­sue that has al­ready cost sev­eral Penn­syl­va­nia politi­cians their ca­reers.

Just last year, the Penn­syl­va­nia leg­is­la­ture ou­traged res­i­dents by grant­ing them­selves a pay raise in the mid­dle of the night. As word of the deed spread, there came a pub­li­coutcryandthe­for­ma­tiono­fanon­par­ti­san or­ga­ni­za­tion called Penn­syl­va­nia Clean Sweep, ded­i­cated to throw­ing out all the in­cum­bents.

CleanSweep“is­no­taRepub­li­can, Demo­crat, Lib­er­tar­ian, Con­sti­tu­tion, Green or Re­form Party move­ment,” ac­cord­ing to its or­ga­niz­ers. “It’s us vs. them. The gov­erned vs. the gov­ern­ment. The tax­pay­ers vs. the tax wasters.” And the group’s record of suc­cess has ev­ery in­cum­bent in the state fear­ing for his job.

This year, all 203 mem­bers of the state House and 25 of the state Se­nate’s 50mem­bers­face re-elec­tion. In theMaypri­maries,35Penn­syl­va­nia Clean Sweep can­di­dates won their races, a stag­ger­ing seven hav­ing top­pled in­cum­bents.

Mr. San­to­rum’s only hope is that vot­ers re­mem­ber that Mr. Casey, who­even­tu­al­lyjoinedthoseop­posed to the­pay-raise plot, is the state trea­sur­erwho­had­signed all the­fat­tened checks.

‘I still feel the knife’

Come Novem­ber, Mr. San­to­rum will need the vote of ev­ery breath­ing con­ser­va­tive in Penn­syl­va­nia. Mostly, they are the folks in the Philadel­phi­a­sub­urb­sand vast rural mid­dle of the state who in past elec­tions have knocked on thou­sands of doors for fis­cally con­ser­va­tive, pro­life, pro-gun can­di­dates.

Just two years ago, they were out in force for for­mer Rep. Pa­trick J. Toomey, a con­ser­va­tive who chal­lenged and nearly beat Penn­syl­va­nia’s long­time se­nior sen­a­tor, Arlen Specter, who is among the most lib­eral Repub­li­cans in the Se­nate.

In 2004, Repub­li­cans knew that if Mr. Specter won the pri­mary, he’d cruise to vic­tory with his tra­di­tional sup­port from Democrats and in­de­pen­dents. If Mr. Toomey had won the pri­mary, he would have had a much harder time win­ning the gen­eral elec­tion.

Be­cause it wasa pres­i­den­tial year in­whichPenn­syl­va­ni­a­couldbe cru­cial, the White House wanted a safe bet and got be­hindMr. Specter. And so did Mr. San­to­rum.

“We had a 51-49 United States Se­nate, and ev­ery seat mat­tered,” Mr. San­to­rum said. “It was im­por­tant, I thought, for the pres­i­dent to have some­one strong on the ticket. I thought it was im­por­tant for us to keep this seat.”

Al­thoughMr.Specter­s­peak­spub­licly of his grat­i­tude for Mr. San­to­rum’sback­ing, it’s ade­ci­sion­thathas re­turned to haunt the San­to­rum cam­paign.

“I still feel the knife in my back from that,” Mr. Clift said. “We worked very hard for Pat Toomey. All [Mr. San­to­rum] had to do was keep his mouth shut, and we’d all be fat, dumb and happy sup­port­ing him right now. I won’t lift a fin­ger to help him.”

In ad­di­tion, he said, “I’m not pullingth­eSan­to­rum­lever this time. I’ll write my­own­name in be­fore I’ll vote for him.”

Al­though many con­ser­va­tives told TheWash­ing­tonTimesthatthey will not cam­paign for Mr.San­to­rum as ac­tively as they would have oth­er­wise, they’ll still vote for him.

“There is no en­thu­si­asm,” said Tim Krieger, a lawyer in West­more­land. “If you press Repub­li­cans, they say, ‘Yeah, San­to­rum is bet­ter than Casey,’ but they’re not go­ing to spend their Satur­days knock­ing on doors.”

One Toomey sup­porter who has for­given Mr. San­to­rum is Mr. Toomey him­self, who is now the pres­i­dent of the con­ser­va­tive Club for Growth. He has en­dorsed Mr. San­to­rum and held a fundraiser for him ear­lier this year.

State Sen. Bob Rob­bins en­thu­si­as­ti­cally sup­ports Mr. San­to­rum, but said he’s not sur­prised that the two-term in­cum­bent faces a stiff chal­lenge.

“Rick San­to­rum is a prin­ci­pled leader, and he has been a cham­pion for con­ser­va­tive is­sues of our time,” he told sup­port­ers at a re­cent rally.

“Leg­is­la­tors likeRick­who­havea solid record and are strong in their po­si­tions of­ten havea tar­get on their back.”

Bush drag

One po­lit­i­cal ally vot­ers won’t see with Mr. San­to­rum at any en­dorse­ment ral­lies is Pres­i­dent Bush, who is un­pop­u­lar in Penn­syl­va­nia.

“Thepres­i­dent isn’t goin­garound do­ing cam­paign ral­lies for peo­ple,” Mr. San­to­rum said. “What a pres­i­dent is best at do­ing for a can­di­date is one thing: rais­ing money. When you have the pres­i­dent at an event, peo­ple will pay money to see him.”

De­spite a host of for­mi­da­ble ob­sta­cles, Mr.San­to­rum’scam­paign is much­bet­ter off to­daythan it was just a few months ago when he trailed Mr.Casey­byadou­ble-dig­it­mar­gin.

The most re­cent poll by Franklin and Mar­shall Col­lege in Lan­caster, Pa., hadMr.San­to­rum trail­ing bysix per­cent­age points, 47 per­cent to 41 per­cent, with­12per­centun­de­cided.

And, Mr. San­to­rum is a tire­less and un­wa­ver­ing cam­paigner, who seems to rel­ish his un­der­dog sta­tus.

At the Pitts­burgh Zoo, he was treated with great fan­fare by hosts grate­ful for the fed­eral fund­ing Mr. San­to­rum had se­cured for the po­lar-bear ex­hibit. Af­ter sur­vey­ing the con­struc­tion site, the staff es­corted him to the neigh­bor­ing sea-lion ex­hibit.

Wear­ing loafers, a golf shirt and an un­com­fort­able grin, Mr. San­to­rum stood inside the pen and watched as zookeep­ers tossed dead fish toea­ger, well-fat­tened sea li­ons.

One of the sea li­ons hopped out with a splash and wad­dled to within a few feet of Mr. San­to­rum. A dead fish was thrown, and the sea lion caught it. With a se­ries of barks, the beast reared back on its rump and clapped its flip­pers.

But that ap­plause is not uni­ver­sal.

Re­cently, Mr.San­to­rumwith sev­eral armed guards in tow be­gan trav­el­ingth­rough this state ina gi­ant, blue RV em­bla­zoned with the smil­ing faces of him and his fam­ily.

As it lum­bered through a toll booth on the in­ter­state be­tween Pitts­burgh and Erie, it caught the eye of a toll col­lec­tor a few booths down.

“Yo,domea fa­vor, wouldyou?”he asked a driver as he gave him change.

“When you pull out of here, hit that truck,” said the toll col­lec­tor as he watched Mr. San­to­rum’s smil­ing face pull away.

Maya Alleruzzo / The Wash­ing­ton Times

On De­fense: Sen. Rick San­to­rum stopped by Knoebels Amuse­ment Park in Elys­burg, Pa., as he cam­paigns in what is seen as one of the tough­est races for a Repub­li­can in­cum­bent.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.