Politics

Santorum could win primary big, but lose delegate race

HARRISBURG, Pa.—“Anyone who loses his Senate seat by a seventeen percentage point margin is in no way a ‘slam dunk’ in the presidential primary,”  former U.S. Attorney and past GOP gubernatorial candidate David Marston told me in Philadelphia.  He was referring, of course, to Rick Santorum in his campaign to win Pennsylvania’s presidential primary April 24.  
At this point, signs are strong that, for now at least, Rick Santorum is running well among the GOP voters who backed him throughout his career as senator here from 1994-2006.  A just-completed Quinnipiac Poll showed Santorum leading Mitt Romney among likely primary voters by a margin of 36 to 22 per cent statewide, with Newt Gingrich trailing at 16 per cent and Ron Paul 12 percent.  

But even if those figures are accurate next month and Santorum wins the popular vote in the primary, it may not necessarily translate into a commanding capture of the Keystone State’s 72 delegates to the Republican National Convention.  As several participants at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference here pointed out to me throughout the weekend, the delegates are elected separately and all are legally unbound to any candidate.  

“I did my senior thesis at the University of Pennsylvania on the delegate selection process here and just how the convention delegates themselves have really nothing to do with the votes for a candidate in the presidential primary,” former Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.) recalled, “Drew Lewis [Ronald Reagan’s state chairman in Pennsylvania] explained to me how even when George H.W. Bush won the primary, the Reagan campaign nonetheless had the most delegates.  They had concentrated on races for individual delegate positions and won more of them than Bush did.”  English, who is running as a Romney delegate from his former Erie County-based U.S. House district, added that his man could win more delegates than Santorum, especially if Santorum had not filed supporters for delegates in all of the state’s eighteen U.S, House districts.

(“Don’t worry—we’ll do very well in the races for delegates,” Rick Santorum told HUMAN EVENTS following his address to the PLC this past weekend, “Our people have filed to run and we’re not running for everything.”)

Under state party rules, three delegates will be elected in each of the U.S. House districts and all run under their own names, without any affiliation to a presidential candidate listed on the ballot.  Along with the 54 delegates elected from congressional districts, Pennsylvania will get five at-large bonus delegates because of the Republican pickups of the governorship and U.S. Senate seat in 2010.  In addition, there will be three automatic “superdelegates” (the state chairman, and two Republican National Committee members) and ten at-large delegates, to be selected by the GOP State Committee under Chairman Bob Gleason, a close ally of Gov. Tom Corbett.  

In most of the districts, local party leaders and elected officials are running on their own reputations and proclaiming themselves neutral in the presidential contest.  Other delegate candidates have publicly declared themselves aligned with a presidential hopeful.  In Lancaster County, for example, GOP County Chairman Ethan Donne explained to HUMAN EVENTS that he and two others are running for delegate slots officially uncommitted.  But, he added, “we have also pledged to honor the will of the voters and will support the candidate who carries our congressional district.”  Former Rep. Bob Walker (R-Pa), who is Gingrich’s national campaign chairman, is also running in the same district and will support his man Gingrich regardless of the vote in the presidential “beauty contest.”

Santorum still haunted by Specter endorsement in 2004

Although Rick Santorum was wildly cheered throughout his address, and many PLC particpants support him in the primary, there are also quite a few conservatives who have never forgotten (or forgiven) what they consider the former senator’s great apostacy—campaigning vigorously for then-Sen. Arlen Specter, a liberal GOPer at the time, in his ’04 primary race  against conservative Pat Toomey.

“Some people don’t forget that Rick chose Specter over Toomey—and they won’t forget it in the presidential primary,” said Gwenne Alexander, conservative pro-family and Republican activist from Chester County, recalling how Santorum’s vigorous campaigning for Specter against Toomey helped the embattled incumbent eke out a win over Toomey by about 15,000 votes out of one million cast (or, about one vote per precinct).

Educator and longtime conservative activist Jim Broussard of Lebanon agreed.  As he put it, “conservatives here might well have forgiven Rick had he just issued a pro forma endorsement of Specter.  But instead, Broussard recalled, “Rick was much more vigorous in his support of Specter and many conservatives still remember that.”

Santorum’s rivals in the presidential race are likely to make sure they keep remembering that before April 24.  During her remarks to the PLC Friday, South Carolina Gov. and Romney surrogate Nikki Haley did just that when she told the conservative conclave: “Thank you for Pat Toomey [who won the Senate in 2010] and thanks for getting rid of Arlen Specter [who switched to the Democratic Party in ’09 and was defeated in its primary the following year].”  

In addition, Newt Gingrich made it clear to HUMAN EVENTS he was going to try to link Santorum to Specter—not only because of the ’04 endorsement against Toomey but because of Santorum’s support of his then-Senate colleague in his 1996 bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

The issue of Santorum’s ties to Specter has also been kept alive by Specter himself.  In recent weeks, the 81-year-old former senator has said that Santorum’s explanation that he backed Specter in return for his senior colleague’s promise of support for Bush Supreme Court nominees was “flatly wrong” and that he never made any commitment in return for an endorsement from Santorum.  Earlier this week, Specter suggested that Santorum’s temperament wasn’t suited to the presidency.

“Rick is learning what it means to trust Specter,” State Rep. Curt Schroeder of Chester County, one of five state representatives to openly back Toomey against Specter in the ’04 primary.  For his part, Schroeder told us he “has gotten over it” and doesn’t hold any bad feelings against Santorum “except I was disappointed that he  publicly attacked Pat Toomey.” He also said that, while committed to Gingrich, “Santorum is my second choice.”

Some have forgiven Santorum for his “Specter moment” and others have not.  If Santorum’s opponents have anything to say about it, they will keep reminding the latter group before April 24.

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