The End of
Pennsylvania is the ultimate swing state. The nation’s sixth-most
populous state contains a juxtaposition between big-city and rural areas
as stark as any in the nation. As a central front in the culture wars,
Pennsylvania has sent radically different types of politicians to
Washington in recent years. And perhaps the most conservative of those
politicians has been the state’s current junior senator, Rick Santorum.
being merely a second-term senator who has never run for any national
office, Santorum is one of the most recognizable members of the Senate.
He’s written a best-selling book, is often interviewed on national
television shows, and was even praised by Tony Soprano on an episode of
“The Sopranos” (though Tony, it should be noted, mistakenly referred to
him as “that senator, Sanitorium”).
his notoriety — or perhaps, because of it — Santorum’s re-election this
November is far from assured. In fact, his seat has been considered one
of the least safe Republican ones almost since the start of the current
that? There are a number of factors. This looks like a strongly
Democratic year, both nationally and in Pennsylvania. In the state in
particular, voters are outraged at the Republican leadership in the
state capitol, Harrisburg, for voting themselves a pay raise earlier
this year. President Bush is immensely unpopular in the state, which he
lost in both 2000 and 2004, and Santorum has never acted in any way to
distance himself from the president.
Republican candidate for governor, former football star Lynn Swann, has
gained next to no traction and is expected to lose by double digits to
popular Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell. Three Republican congressmen in
suburban Philadelphia are facing tough opposition for re-election, in
races that may very well swing control of the House. And Republican Rep.
Don Sherwood’s seat may be in danger, after it came to light that his
former mistress had accused him of attempting to strangle her during a
major part of Santorum’s difficulty is that he has a strong opponent,
state treasurer Bob Casey Jr.
whose father and namesake was a popular two-term governor of the state,
is also a committed centrist, who has been outspoken about his
opposition to abortion and gun control. And while Casey’s pro-life
status, which he shares with his late father, has cut him off from some
major Democratic funding sources, it has served to inoculate him from
the charge that he’s too left-wing for the state’s rural areas.
surprise, however, is that Santorum may be too right-wing for them as
well. The senator may be best-known for, in a 2003 interview with the
Associated Press, equating homosexuality with bestiality. Then, at a
time when most candidates would attempt to move to the center, Santorum
published a book in 2005 called “It Takes a Family,” that seemed to
argue for a return to 1950s-based family values.
has not run a particularly strong campaign, especially for a candidate
who had little trouble getting elected in either of his two previous
races. He’s been relentlessly negative throughout, sending daily faxes
to the news media condescendingly slamming Casey as “Bobby,” and
slamming him for having not yet debated Santorum, even when the election
was more than six months away.
the Santorum campaign released an anti-Casey advertisement that tied him
to several contributors who had been arrested or convicted of crimes, an
“Ad Watch” segment on a local Lancaster TV news broadcast labeled the ad
“false,” its lowest designation.
Polls taken in the past week unanimously place Casey in the lead,
by as much as 13 percent (the Rasmussen poll) to as little as 5 percent
(the Allentown Morning Call.)
There is another reason why Santorum is much better known than the
average senator. Dan Savage, a nationally syndicated sex columnist,
reacted to Santorum’s 2003 comments by holding a “name a gay sex act
after Rick Santorum” contest — and the winner, alas, certainly cannot be
published in this or any other family newspaper.
Savage attempted to donate to Casey’s campaign and was rebuffed,
but instead re-directed his efforts to a group called Philadelphians
Against Santorum. Savage was scheduled to visit Philadelphia this week
for a fundraiser. It’s very easy to imagine Santorum’s staff showing up
with cameras, filming the crowd and scaring the living daylights out of
has rushed back from behind before, such as during his 1994 race against
incumbent Harris Wofford. If he’s going to do so again, it’s hard to
imagine him doing so without using the culture wars to his advantage
—whether Dan Savage is involved, or not.
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