Union University
Union University Department of Political Science
Department of Political Science

Blog


Baker

Santorum Gets His Chance

Hunter Baker, Associate Dean of Arts & Science
Jan 6, 2012

On Wednesday morning, I turned on the television to see the final results of the Iowa caucuses. When the screen revealed that Rick Santorum had nearly tied Mitt Romney for first place, my wife moaned in near despair, "Who is Rick Santorum?"

There are many Americans who share her plight. Anyone who is not a political junkie and has tried to follow the Republican Party nominating contest could scarcely be faulted for protesting the difficulty of doing so. Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry (previously a name prominent only in Texas) and Herman Cain have all waxed and waned. When Newt Gingrich rocketed into the lead (only to fall back like the others), many probably expressed relief simply to see a politician in the action with whom they were familiar.

Rick Santorum is the former two-term U.S. senator and former congressman from Pennsylvania. He successfully won election to the House of Representatives in a heavily Democratic district and ultimately gained a 12-year stay in the Senate as Arlen Specter's junior partner. Though Santorum endorsed Specter and helped him gain reelection in 2004, he is much more conservative than the Machiavellian Specter, who switched parties in 2010 and was defeated for re-election.

Santorum has a reputation as a strong social conservative and traditional Catholic. He is the author of one book, "It Takes a Family," which was intended as a rebuttal of sorts to Hillary Clinton's "It Takes a Village."

Part of the reason Santorum is relatively unknown is that he lost his seat in 2006 to Bob Casey Jr. by a whopping 18 points as Democrats trounced Republicans. Casey, the namesake of a popular former governor of the state, smartly rode the natural momentum of the year and left Santorum debating an empty chair. The loss severely eroded the senator's reputation as a candidate who could win in swing states.

Now, with what is effectively a win in Iowa, Santorum may become more well known than he ever was in the past. One big question is whether he will do well in Iowa only to go nowhere due to a lack of funds and organization. And even if the money materializes, will he simply drift back to earth as so many other challengers to Romney have done?

The odds are against him, but Santorum has an interesting appeal. He is a social conservative with a message of interest to working people in America. His economic plan emphasizes a strategy to maintain and expand the manufacturing base. As a Catholic son of the Rust Belt, he has the potential to build a broad coalition.

On the other hand, he is arguably the most hated candidate by the gay rights lobby for his blunt opposition to both gay marriage and adoption. Those commitments alone practically guarantee extremely negative treatment for his campaign from cultural elites in the media and entertainment industries.

Santorum has been largely overlooked so far as he stood at the edge of the podium in debates, dismissed due to low poll numbers. When he was noticed, it was usually because he complained about how few questions he was getting. Sen. Santorum, the stage is yours for at least the next several news cycles. We shall see what you can do with it.

This column originally appeared in the January 6 edition of The Jackson Sun