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Politics

Many Republicans withheld votes from Santorum

| Friday, May 19, 2006

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Nearly 22,000 Pennsylvania Republicans who voted for Lynn Swann as the GOP nominee for governor withheld their support from U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum in Tuesday's primary.

Both candidates were unopposed. Swann, the former Pittsburgh Steelers star, received 574,276 votes, while Santorum, who is seeking a third term in the Senate, drew 552,559, according to unofficial totals compiled by the Pennsylvania Department of State that were 99 percent complete Thursday.

Santorum held his own in the important, GOP-dominated counties surrounding Philadelphia, winning about 3,000 more votes than Swann.

But he lagged Swann in counties in the southwestern corner of the state that is their mutual home turf. In Allegheny County alone, which includes Pittsburgh, the gap was nearly 7,000 votes.

In the Nov. 7 general election, Swann will face Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell while Santorum is running against state Treasurer Bob Casey.

Less than six months before the election, independent polls show both Republicans lagging their Democratic opponents by double-digit margins.

But political observers say the disparity in the primary vote could be a bad omen for Santorum. Democratic strategists view Santorum, the Senate's third-ranking Republican, as vulnerable partly because of his ties to President Bush, whose approval rating is sagging.

Despite the overall low voter turnout, people who vote in primary elections are people who are committed to their party, said Thomas J. Baldino, a political science professor at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre.

The disparity between Santorum's and Swann's totals "should give Sen. Santorum reason to pause because he is desperate to hold onto his base," Baldino said. "If there are Republicans who fail to appear on Election Day ... it's going to make his re-election task more difficult."

G. Terry Madonna, a professor and pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, speculated that Santorum's support reflects disenchantment within the state party over Bush's presidency and related issues.

"If they disapprove of the job the president is doing, (that's) a big indication that they're not likely to vote for Sen. Santorum," Madonna said.

Virginia Davis, a Santorum campaign spokeswoman, said using Swann's totals to gauge Santorum's support is "not comparing apples to apples."

"The dynamics are different," she said. "You cannot compare the governor's race to the Senate race."

Davis also noted that, while Rendell received 637,044 votes in his uncontested primary — compared with 621,215 for Casey — the votes cast for Casey opponents Chuck Pennacchio and Alan Sandals pushed the total in the Democratic Senate primary race to more than 735,000.

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