Santorum, GOP die is cast

| Sunday, June 25, 2006

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The conventional-wisdom crowd insists that, this being the 25th day of June, voters are "not focused" on the fall elections.

School's just out, a wonderfully long four-day Independence Day weekend looms. Gas prices, too high• Pshaw! The Clark W. Griswold family vacation likely remains just around the corner. "Who's thinking about elections ?" grouse the pooh-poohers.

Crack open another beer, turn those brats on the barbee, then sit back and dream of the perfect shot onto that perfect green with a hole outfitted with a power vac or coursing the wave tops on that jet ski with a gas tank that never seems to empty.

"Elections• Please, don't bother me now ."

Well, somebody's bothering with the Nov. 7 election now. After all, people are responding to the pollsters. And at least one reputable poll is suggesting some very troubling trends for a Pennsylvania Republican at the top of the fall ticket.

The latest Quinnipiac University Poll has Democrat Bobby Casey re-stretching his lead over Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum to 18 percentage points, 52-34 percent, six points outside the 12 percent who remain undecided. The 52-34 ratio is the same as last October.

But the real story of this poll is that nearly half of Mr. Casey's support -- 44 percent -- isn't for Casey at all but against Santorum. As Dan Rather might say, "Write the headline in red and in bold: 'Anti-Rick, Big Time.'"

It's a phenomenally high number that signals a deep distrust, if not intestinal dislike, of Mr. Santorum. And while the Santorum campaign is fond of saying that Casey "has more in common with Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean," these kinds of anti-Santorum numbers have more in common with, well, Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean.

And if these numbers are genuinely representative of the electorate, OUCH, for even 35 percent of Republicans don't think much of Santorum.

Indeed, it's not even July. There are four full months to go. And this race will tighten. But Santorum's numbers are horrid. It's pretty difficult to argue that you've served your state well when darn near half your opponent's "support" really is just those who think you're a dolt.

And just in case Santorum thinks he can make a race of it by converting the undecideds, well, and as Astro the dog of "Jetsons" fame would say, "Rots a Ruck, Rick" -- most of those undecideds will swing to the challenger.

Santorum bowed his television campaign ads in every Pennsylvania media market on Friday. The ads are seeking not just to reinforce what Santorum believes his accomplishments to be but to brand to his advantage an opponent about whom the same Quinnipiac Poll suggests nearly half of the respondents don't have much of any impression.

It should not be difficult to paint Bobby Casey as what he is -- a lousy choice for U.S. Senate. But overcoming such overwhelming negative sentiment will be a very tall order for Santorum. And it could be indicative of the kind of national storm for "change" that propelled Bill Clinton into the White House in 1992. The die appears to be cast.

(use drop cap here) Even if not, Santorum has not helped his cause as of late. Or, as Quinnipiac pollster Clay F. Richards put it, "Santorum appears to be his own worst enemy ... ."

Santorum may have been technically correct last week about the discovery of some weapons of mass destruction. But his involvement in publicizing previously classified information came with all the sincerity of a pol in trouble -- a hastily called news conference to trumpet what, in effect, was old and not all that significant news of WMD that, according to one official, were pre-Gulf War I and perhaps not even in useable condition.

That said, had this truly been stop-the-presses news, it would have been President George W. Bush -- not the struggling No. 3 guy in the Senate -- pushing the button and making over the page to announce the "findings." What's next for Santorum, finding a cache of old liquor in some basement and declaring himself to be tough on "rum runners"?

Then there was the flap over Santorum's residency. When, in May, local Democrat operatives got the senator's goat (and good) about whether Santorum really lives in Penn Hills or suburban Washington, Santorum lost it. He was nearly hysterical in one radio interview claiming his family's safety was at stake. And in a spate of great theater, U.S. Capitol police even inspected the premises.

Say what you want about the political hacks behind the incident, Santorum gave them more than enough ammunition to raise questions about the demeanor of the junior senator of Pennsylvania. He should have learned long ago that silence oftentimes can be the most effective rebuttal to ridiculousness.

(use drop cap here) Fifteen months ago, this political goggler predicted Santorum would lose to Casey. That prediction stands. Not because Casey is any alternative -- he'll be eaten alive in Washington, conscripted by the Teddy Kennedy wing of the Democratic Party to do its bidding -- but because Santorum has become, as was written at the time, "an unprincipled pandering opportunist."

Some would say that's merely the definition of a "politician." Touche. But Santorum came to the Senate promising and knowing better. Nearly 12 years later, his is an opportunity squandered and probabilities unrealized.

And the Republican apparati that control things wonder why there's mutiny in the ranks that it too long took for granted as being Republican apparatchiki?

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