First elected to the Senate in the Republican wave of 1994, the conservative Santorum lost his seat to Democrat Bob Casey Jr. in 2006. Since that time, Santorum has surveyed social and international issues from a perch at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a think thank manned by faith-based conservatives. At EPPC, Santorum has weighed in on threats abroad -- including Iran and Venezuela -- and has taken aim at the policies backed by President Barack Obama including international policy, health-care and fiscal issues.
A devout Catholic, Santorum has also empathized the role of faith in the public square. On the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association where he said that his Catholicism would not shape his policies in the White House, Santorum spoke in Houston in September to challenge JFK’s point. Santorum said that his faith and beliefs can -- and should -- guide his public actions.
Santorum has remained active in Republican politics, using his America’s Foundation PAC to back candidates across the country, including Marco Rubio in Florida. The campaign trail took Santorum to a number of key battleground states for the Republican presidential nomination. In late October, Santorum stumped for Republicans in Iowa and South Carolina, home to two of the earliest contests. Following the election, Santorum dashed to New Hampshire which has traditionally held the nation’s first presidential primary -- the sixth time that he has visited the Granite State this year.
While Iowa is not exactly in Santorum’s backyard, the Pennsylvanian has put a heavy emphasis on the Hawkeye State, home of the first caucus. Santorum has set up the Iowa Keystone PAC which backed candidates for state office in the 2010 elections. Iowa has helped social conservatives before. Pat Robertson edged out George Bush for second place there in 1988 while Pat Buchanan did well in 1996. While they trailed behind George W. Bush in Iowa in 2000, both Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer had strong showings despite neither ever having held elected office. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a social conservative, won the Iowa caucus in 2008, beating former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Despite his two terms in the Senate, Santorum has attempted to tap into voter discontent and connect with the tea party movement.
“This was but the first step,” noted Santorum in his survey of last week’s election results as he unveiled his “Keep the Tea Hot” website to “keep our representatives accountable to the message we sent yesterday!”
Still, Santorum has his challenges. Casey utterly routed Santorum back in 2006, beating him 59 to 41 percent, the largest margin of defeat for an incumbent senator in more than 25 years.
American political history offers little comfort. There are few examples of candidates winning a presidential nomination despite losing their last general election. Richard Nixon won the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 despite losing a gubernatorial campaign in California six years earlier -- but Nixon, who had served eight years as vice president and had been the GOP’s presidential candidate in 1960, was far better known than Santorum. Before Nixon, the last politician who won the presidency despite losing his last general election was Benjamin Harrison back in 1888. Despite being the grandson of a president and a general in the Civil War, Harrison lost his seat in the U.S. Senate in 1886.
Santorum also faces a crowded primary field, with most of the candidates better known than the former senator from Pennsylvania. Back in September, Santorum gave a rousing and well-received speech at the Values Voters Summit, hosted by the Family Research Council and Bauer’s American Values group. Despite the speech, Santorum placed a distant sixth in a presidential straw poll held at the event -- finishing behind winner U.S. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, Huckabee, Romney, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. While Pence appears to be running for governor of Indiana in 2012, the fact remains Santorum faces several challengers in his attempt to round up social conservatives behind his candidacy.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.