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Santorum Struggles With Support

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Tuesday, 25 Aug 2015 10:27 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Rick Santorum doesn't mince words when it comes to what kind of candidates he stands behind. "I’ve been someone who stood and fought for getting Washington, D.C., off lurching toward socialism," he told Newsmax. 

So far, however, the former Pennsylvania senator’s willingness to back candidates who take on sitting Republican senators has yielded little in terms of support for his presidential bid.

In response to a question from us at his Washington, D.C., news conference last Thursday, the GOP presidential candidate described his history of supporting insurgent conservatives who challenged his one-time Republican colleagues in the Senate for re-nomination.

In 2012, former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum endorsed Dan Liljenquist, who made an unsuccessful run against Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, and two years later, he campaigned in Mississippi for state Sen. Chris McDaniel in a too-close-to-call (and much-disputed) primary challenge to veteran Sen. Thad Cochran.

Santorum was quick to stand with Ted Cruz's Texas Senate campaign as well. “Look, I endorsed Ted Cruz in the [Texas Republican Senate primary in 2012] when he was way behind in the polls. And I have endorsed a whole lot of other candidates, if they are committed to limited government and more freedom.”

So, are the major candidates Santorum backed for the Senate reciprocating?

“Sen. Santorum is someone we have a lot of respect for,” Mississippi Sen. Melanie Sojourner, who managed McDaniel’s 2012 Senate race, told me, but quickly added that she and McDaniel “have just signed on board Sen. Cruz’s leadership team here.”

Cruz, according to Sojourner, “is the candidate who is most aligned with our vision and the most consistent conservative in the [presidential] primaries.”

In voicing admiration for Santorum and gratitude for his 2012 campaign assistance to McDaniel, Sojourner did point out that she and McDaniel did have a “differing of ideology” with the former senator over his support of the “mandatory minimum wage.”

Liljenquist, former Utah state legislator and businessman, said in a Newsmax interview: “I have the highest regard for Rick Santorum, and he sure helped me when very few on the national scene did. I’m grateful for Rick’s endorsement.”

As for backing him for president in 2016, however, Liljenquist said: “I haven’t made up my mind yet. We have so many good candidates, including Rick, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Dr. Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina.”

An early Mitt Romney booster in 2012, Liljenquist told me “a combination of any of the above would sure be an exciting Republican ticket in ’16.”

Santorum’s policy of supporting conservative challengers to incumbent GOP senators differs sharply from that when he was in the Senate. In a decision still recalled by many Pennsylvania conservatives more than a decade later, Santorum in 2004 vigorously backed the Keystone State’s liberal Sen. Arlen Specter when he was challenged from the right in the Republican primary by then-Rep. Pat Toomey.

Specter defeated Toomey by about one vote per precinct in a cliff-hanger, won re-election in the fall, became a Democrat after voting for Obamacare in 2009, and was beaten in the Democratic primary in 2010. Toomey won the seat for Republicans that year.

“Now that Pat Toomey is a sitting senator, and with so many waves of activists entering the political arena in the years since that race, the problem conservatives had with Rick has largely dissipated,” observed Lowman Henry, veteran Pennsylvania conservative activist and head of the conservative Lincoln Institute, “And Rick did a mea culpa at the [annual conservative conclave] Pennsylvania Leadership Conference a couple of years ago, which helped.”

Other Pennsylvania conservatives remain less forgiving. Former Lancaster County GOP Chairman Ann Womble told me, “Conservatives here haven't forgotten or forgiven Santorum for his out-of-touch support for liberal Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey.

"He suffers in Pennsylvania from the double whammy of a disastrous re-election loss in ’06 and his unnecessary support for a liberal turncoat who at the time was dubbed ‘America's worst senator’ by ‘National Review.’”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
 


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In an interview, Santorum described his history of supporting insurgent conservatives who challenged his onetime Republican colleagues in the Senate for re-nomination.
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2015-27-25
Tuesday, 25 Aug 2015 10:27 AM
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