Thursday, October 20, 2005

Santorum has to catch up to win again - www.publicopiniononline.com - Chambersburg, PA

Public Opinion - www.publicopiniononline.com - Chambersburg, PA: "Santorum has to catch up to win again
By G. TERRY MADONNA and MICHAEL L. YOUNG

Bill Clinton and Rick Santorum have at least one thing in common — both have been known as the "comeback kid."

In Clinton's case, it's based on his near-death experience in the 1992 primaries followed by his amazing political rebound to win the Democratic nomination.In Santorum's case, the moniker is based on his supposed record of come-from-behind wins against better-known and better-financed political opponents.Supposed is the key word, because a close reading of Santorum's campaign history suggests the comeback kid persona is a myth — one perpetuated at every opportunity by the junior senator himself.

The record, drawn from Keystone Polls, shows Santorum has never been behind in any previous Senate race, the sole exception being the very early part of his 1994 race against incumbent Harris Wofford.But into early October, he had pushed his name recognition to 70% and by late October he had a 42% to 32% lead.

But then the so-called comeback kid almost blew a 10-point lead after a pair of blunders; one was the celebrated verbal exchange with Theresa Heinz, the widow of recently deceased and widely admired Republican Sen. John Heinz and a Wofford supporter. Santorum followed up by calling for an increase of the Social Security age to 70 — this in the state only second to Florida in proportion of senior citizens.
On Election Day, he limped to a two-point victory.

His 2000 opponent was Democratic Congressman Ron Klink, similarly conservative on abortion and gun control. The comeback kid never showed up for this race either. Santorum was never behind Klink at any point in the race.

He was ahead of Klink 45% to 25% in July.Klink was on the ballot, but he was never in the race. At the end of the campaign, Klink was still unknown by 42% of the voters. Yet, Santorum only won by seven points.

Is Santorum just lucky to have had weak opponents?

Santorum regularly fumbles big leads or stumbles in the clutch. To some extent he also does not wear well with voters as the campaign runs on. Much of his success has been based on running up big leads and then hanging on to win.

Santorum is a master at riding an incoming tide. His first congressional race against incumbent Democrat Doug Walgren in 1990 is illustrative. In that race, Santorum ran against the Washington establishment, anticipating a full-blown conservative revolt four years later.

By 1994, against Harris Wofford and with Gingrich Republicans sweeping into power, Santorum had become the fiery ideologue running against entrenched big spending, big government liberals.

Also worth mentioning is Santorum's sheer bravado. He believes he can be a giant killer; he is David, warring against Goliath and it's a role he clearly relishes. This aspect of his success, his willingness to fight against the odds and against the advice of his friends, explains his stands today on many of the controversial issues he champions.

But now, far behind in the polls against Robert Casey Jr. and saddled with accumulated political liabilities from 12 years in office, he really has to become the comeback kid to keep his Senate seat.

Dr. G. Terry Madonna is professor of Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College and Dr. Michael Young is managing partner of Michael Young Strategic Research.

Originally published October 20, 2005"

1 Comments:

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7:49 PM  

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