Santorum's Sacrifice

Two months ago, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum threw his hat into an already crowded ring for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. His announcement on D-Day invoked his “courage to fight for freedom.”

While Santorum isn't the only conservative in the field, he does have a nice pedigree for soliciting Republican support. During his tenure in Congress, Santorum was known as a go-to guy for social conservatives. In that time Rick authored or sponsored bills to protect newborn infants, promote adult stem-cell research (as opposed to embryonic stem-cell research), and maintain workplace religious freedom.

Yet in order to stand out in a group of perhaps a half-dozen candidates of varying conservative credentials, Rick had to move beyond his social conservative base and come up with other issue arguments which appealed to both Tea Party regulars and Republican voters at large who may have recalled his ignominious 18-point defeat by current Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, Jr. in 2006. That election was a disaster for Republicans all over the country, but Santorum managed to be the one incumbent senator who was absolutely crushed in his re-election bid.

A good step in erasing that memory came last month when Santorum unveiled an economic plan focused on bringing back manufacturing jobs, which was applauded in at least some quarters.

Still, there is a segment of conservative activists who won't forget that Santorum toed the establishment Republican Party line in 2004, when he backed fellow Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter over the more conservative Pat Toomey in the Republican primary. Santorum issued a partial mea culpa last year, saying that the support of the incumbent was based on a promise that Specter would back any of President Bush's Supreme Court nominees. But the 2004 primary was a bitter defeat for the conservative voters in the Keystone State to swallow, and it was made even worse when Specter changed party affiliation to avoid a rematch with Toomey in 2010. That fateful 2004 decision may have  doomed Santorum two years later as conservative Pennsylvania voters either stayed home or pulled the lever for Casey, a rare pro-life Democrat.