Rick Santorum's endorsement of Arlen Specter, a strong supporter of abortion who gave President Barack Obama the key Senate vote to pass Obamacare, is becoming a key issue as the Iowa caucuses near.
Polls show that Santorum is seeing a last-minute surge in Iowa, but pro-lifers and pro-Christian groups are seeing red.
According to press reports, critics of Santorum have been handing out fliers and putting them on cars outside of Santorum events claiming that the former Pennsylvania senator is a "Pro-Life Fraud." The organization publishing the fliers identifies itself as "Iowans for Life."
A devout Catholic, Santorum has been a consistent advocate for pro-life issues, but he backed pro-abortion candidates in key political moves that could have benefited his own career.
The pro-life flier notes that Santorum has "a long and storied history of campaigning for radical pro-abortion candidates,” mentioning Santorum's strong endorsement for former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and former fellow Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter.
Santorum seems most haunted by his 2004 decision to back the pro-abortion Specter in a Republican primary. Specter won narrowly, defeating his pro-life opponent Pat Toomey, and Santorum's support of Specter was cited as a key help to the liberal Specter.
“Santorum’s recent interventions on behalf of Arlen Specter are so bewildering,” Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth, wrote in 2004 on National Review Online.
“Toomey’s voting record, especially on economic-growth issues, is very similar to Santorum’s and is as impressive as Specter’s is dreadful.”
Noting that the Citizens Against Government Waste ranked Specter as the “Pork Spender of the Year,” Moore wrote that, nevertheless, “Santorum is actively working to undermine Pat Toomey’s candidacy. He has discouraged donors from contributing to Toomey. He has cut TV ads for Specter that portray the senior liberal senator as a friend of the taxpayer.”
Santorum’s support for Specter proved crucial in the primary, in which Specter defeated Toomey with just 50.8 percent of the vote.
Conservative criticism of Specter appeared justified. Specter backed Obama's healthcare program — giving him the swing vote to pass the legislation in the Senate.
In 2009, Specter faced likely defeat in the GOP primary, once again challenged by Toomey. Specter decided to leave the Republican Party and ran for re-election as a Democrat. Obama backed him strongly.
Specter was defeated in the Democratic primary by Rep. Joe Sestak, who then lost the general election to Toomey.
Santorum paid dearly for his support of Specter, most observers agree.
In 2006, he ran for re-election and squared off against State Treasurer Bob Casey. Casey, a Democrat, received 59 percent of the vote to Santorum’s 41 percent — the largest margin of defeat ever for an incumbent Republican senator in Pennsylvania.
Some pundits said that Santorum's strong support for Specter, one of the Republican Party's most pro-abortion senators, had cost him his job.
Conservatives evidently have not forgotten Santorum’s perceived betrayal of their cause. Santorum has been dogged for weeks at campaign appearances for his support of Specter.
At a campaign appearance in Sioux Center, Iowa, in early December, fliers criticizing his candidacy were scattered around the site.
The flier read: “Why Rick Santorum is not fit to serve as President of the United States.”
It further stated: “It is well established that Rick Santorum aggressively campaigned for now-Democrat U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, one of the most pro-abortion Senators in the U.S. Senate — over a strongly pro-life primary opponent.”
Santorum told the gathering he supported Specter because he was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and promised Santorum that he would help usher in President Bush’s Supreme Court nominee, according to Yahoo News.
However, Specter has flatly denied that he assured Santorum he would vote for Bush’s Supreme Court nominee in exchange for Santorum’s endorsement, saying “I never made any promises to Senator Santorum.”
Specter has been a consistent Senate supporter of abortion rights over several decades. Santorum himself has acknowledged that the endorsement was a mistake. At the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in April 2010, Santorum “apologized" for his support of Specter.
As Santorum's star has risen in Iowa, his conservative record has come under more scrutiny.
This past week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry began airing an ad attacking Santorum for being one of the biggest earmarkers in the Senate, even supporting the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere."
Eric Erickson, the head of the conservative blog Red State, has described Santorum as a big spender in the Senate, saying his record proved him to be a "big government conservative."
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