NPR logo Santorum Trails, But Is He a Goner?

Santorum Trails, But Is He a Goner?

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Polls show him to be the most vulnerable senator up in 2006. hide caption

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'Ed Rendell: Perfect for Pennsylvania' campaign button

Since Pennsylvania allowed its governors to seek a 2nd term 30 years ago, none has been defeated. hide caption

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'Re-Elect Duff with Ike' campaign button

Even running on Eisenhower's coattails, Sen. James Duff (R) was unseated in 1956. No Pennsylvania Republican senator has lost since. hide caption

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Q: I'm interested in the prospect of Rick Santorum (R-PA) losing his Senate seat to Bob Casey, the state treasurer and son of a popular former governor. Pennsylvania has voted Democratic in the last four presidential elections, yet we have two Republican senators, one — Santorum — who is very conservative. What are the chances that Casey beats Santorum in November? — Jane Nickalls, Lehman, Pa.

A: There is no senator up for re-election in the nation today whom the Democrats want to defeat more than Rick Santorum. And there is no senator who is in worse shape this year than Santorum. And with Casey as his opponent, it's the marquee Senate race in the country. Polls for the most part have given Casey — the state's greatest vote getter in history — a double-digit lead, though there is some indication that the race has narrowed recently. Casey, who won Tuesday's primary with 85 percent of the vote against two minor opponents, remains the favorite for November.

Santorum, a strong social conservative, is a leader of the anti-abortion forces in Congress. A win, though unlikely at this point, could launch him on the road for a presidential bid. Casey, who like his late father is pro-life, has nonetheless picked up support from many Democrats who look past his conservative views on abortion and guns and see him as someone who can halt Santorum's career. One of them is Gov. Ed Rendell, who defeated Casey in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary by attacking those very positions on abortion and guns. But that was then and this is now. Rendell, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who is also on the ballot this year, is going all-out for Casey.

But Santorum has been counted out before — in his first run for Congress in 1990, and in his Senate defeat of incumbent Democrat Harris Wofford in 1994 — and he is a far more effective campaigner than Casey. No Republican senator from Pennsylvania has been voted out of office since James Duff in 1956. At least Duff had a popular president campaigning with him at the time. That's a luxury that Santorum certainly doesn't have in his bid for a third term.

Q: Besides the unelected Sen. Harris Wofford (D-PA) in the 1991 special election and Jesse Helms (R-NC) in 1984, has any other incumbent senator been as far behind in the polls as Rick Santorum is and won? — Chuck Todd, Editor-in-Chief, The Hotline, Washington, D.C.

A: A good question. One who comes to mind is Bob Dole. The Kansas Republican was thought to be dead in the water in his bid for a second Senate term in 1974. The year was not an especially good one for the GOP anyway, in the wake of Watergate, but Dole was perceived — not entirely correctly — as being very close to President Nixon. He certainly was a fervent supporter during good times and an equally fervent defender during the bad; Nixon, of course, resigned in disgrace that summer.

The Democratic candidate, Rep. William Roy, had a 10-point lead in some polls within weeks of the election. Dole ran effective ads showing a poster of his being splattered with mud, insinuating that Roy and the Democrats were running a dirty campaign. But Dole's side had some muddy fingerprints as well; whispers about Roy, a doctor, performing abortions are thought to have come from the Dole camp. Dole won a narrow upset victory.

Q: Listening to you on last Wednesday's Talk of the Nation, I was shocked at your response to a caller's questions about Lynn Swann's candidacy for governor of Pennsylvania. The caller asked if Swann was desperate, pointing to the negative content on his Web site. You responded that you didn't think he was desperate. That point is debatable, but your next comment was flat-out wrong. You said that "the polls" are close and that "some polls" have Swann ahead in the race. This is simply totally wrong! Governor Ed Rendell (D) has opened up a 55-33 percent lead over Swann, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. Two other polls within the past two weeks showed Rendell with at least a 15-point lead over Swann, and one of those polls was a Republican-sponsored poll.

I was shocked to hear such incorrect information on NPR. I expect it on Fox or CNN or MSNBC, etc., but not NPR. Aside from the slip-shod reference to "some polls," which is meaningless because the sponsor of a poll is a key piece of information, your comments were an example of careless reporting of misinformation. What got into you? I am a frequent listener and I simply am puzzled by your incorrect comments. You should be more careful and I think a correction is called for at this time. — John McLaughlin, Philadelphia, Pa.

A: I'm sorry you are so shocked. I hope you've calmed down by now. Here's what I said:

The polls show it very even. And I've seen some polls that show Lynn Swann actually ahead. It's my understanding that in the history of Pennsylvania, no governor has ever been defeated for reelection. So Lynn Swann, who is African-American and Republican, has his work cut out for him. But, right now, the polls show it looks pretty close.

You say that I am "flat out wrong" in saying that the polls are close and that some had Swann ahead. And you cite, correctly, the new Quinnipiac poll that has Rendell up by 22 points. Also, I did say, as you point out, that some polls had Swann ahead. In retrospect, that was sloppy; in doing some research after receiving your letter, the last poll I could find showing Swann with a lead was back in January, and that was a Republican-sponsored poll.

But I don't buy the argument that Rendell is running away with the race. You can point to the Quinnipiac poll. I'll point to a Pew poll among likely voters that was also released last week, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, that has Rendell ahead of Swann by one — count 'em — one point.

I still think the race is close, and if I had to venture a guess, I'd say Rendell wins. But let's talk again in six months.

More Pennsylvania Results:

CONGRESS: Rep. Don Sherwood (R), whose extra-marital affair came to light after his lover accused him of choking her, won renomination with just 57 percent of the vote against a little-known challenger. His Democratic opponent for November in the very Republican in the 10th District is Navy veteran Chris Carney.

In the 8th District, centered in the suburbs north of Philadelphia, Democrats nominated Iraq war veteran Patrick Murphy to take on freshman Republican Michael Fitzpatrick

STATE LEGISLATURE: A huge pay raise pushed through by legislative leaders last year resulted in a big backlash by angry voters: 14 incumbents went down to defeat as of this writing, including the top two Republicans in the state Senate, President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer and Majority Leader David Brightbill. Russ Diamond, a leader of the pay-raise opposition, is running for governor in the fall as an Independent

Other Primary Results of Note:

OREGON: Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D), one of the least popular governors in the country, won renomination for a second term in the all mail-in primary with 54 percent of the vote against two opponents, including former state Treasurer Jim Hill. Liberals claim Kulongoski has a thin record and has sold them out in favor of safe, centrist politics. The Republican nod went to former Portland school board member Ron Saxton. Both Saxton and Hill unsuccessfully sought their respective parties' nomination for governor four years ago.

THE BRONX: Not really a primary, but worth mentioning nonetheless. The Yankees, down 10-1 at one point last night to the Texas Rangers, rallied to win 14-13 on the strength of Jorge Posada's two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth.

Next Week's Primaries: Arkansas, Idaho

Q: How many people who served in both the House AND Senate are still living? — Scott Bill Hirst, Ashaway, R.I.

A: This is going to be tough. I know I'm probably going to leave some out. And I sure hope I'm not listing anyone who has since passed away. If anyone can think of others, or know of errors, please let me know!

My list shows 24 Republicans and 18 Democrats, as well as three more who switched parties while they were in the House: ex-Democrats Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Phil Gramm, and ex-Republican Don Riegle. Here's my tally of those living members who served in both chambers, listed alphabetically:

James Abdnor (R-SD), James Abourezk (D-SD), Mark Andrews (R-ND), Bill Armstrong (R-CO), Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX), John Breaux (D-LA), Daniel Brewster (D-MD), Bill Brock (R-TN), Hank Brown (R-CO), Jim Broyhill (R-NC), Ben Nighthorse Campbell (D/R-CO), Dan Coats (R-IN), Bill Cohen (R-ME), John Culver (D-IA), Tom Daschle (D-SD), Bob Dole (R-KS), Wyche Fowler (D-GA), Al Gore (D-TN), Phil Gramm (D/R-TX), Rod Grams (R-MN), Bob Griffin (R-MI), William Hathaway (D-ME), Tim Hutchinson (R-AR), Bob Kasten (R-WI), Bob Krueger (D-TX), Connie Mack (R-FL), Charles Mathias (R-MD), James McClure (R-ID), George McGovern (D-SD), John Melcher (D-MT), Larry Pressler (R-SD), David Pryor (D-AR), Dan Quayle (R-IN), Don Riegle (R/D-MI), Dick Schweiker (R-PA), George Smathers (D-FL), Bob Smith (R-NH), Bob Stafford (R-VT), Steve Symms (R-ID), Bob Torricelli (D-NJ), Paul Trible (R-VA), John Tunney (D-CA), Lowell Weicker (R-CT), and Tim Wirth (D-CO).

POLITICAL POTPOURRI

— Tom DeLay has set the date; he will resign his congressional seat on June 9. A special election will coincide with the regular Nov. 7 general election. A committee of local GOP officials in Texas' 22nd District will pick the party's nominee; whoever it is will face ex-Rep. Nick Lampson (D). According to the Lone Star Project, this will be the longest vacancy for a Texas congressional seat since 1905. As you all no doubt remember, Rep. John Pinckney was shot and killed at a meeting of the Waller County Prohibition League on April 24, 1905, and the seat remained vacant for 224 days, when ex-state Rep. John Moore was elected.

— After all the maneuvering and the whispers and the rumors, it looks like Rep. Katherine Harris is the all-but-certain Republican Senate nominee in Florida. No other big name entered the primary and she refused whatever entreaties that may or may not have been sent her way to get her out of the race.

— While no one knows for sure how immigration will play in the November elections, here's one incumbent who's been hurt by it: Rep. Chris Cannon. The Utah Republican failed to win the official party endorsement at last weekend's GOP convention because he supports President Bush's guest-worker plan. Cannon will face businessman John Jacob in the June 27 primary.

REMINDER: "Political Junkie" is featured every Wednesday on NPR's Talk of the Nation, a live call-in program, at 2:40 p.m. Eastern. This week: primary results, President Bush speaks on immigration, and the Lieberman-Lamont Senate battle at this weekend's Connecticut Democratic state convention. Special guest: Pennsylvania Dem Senate candidate Robert Casey Jr. (Last week's guest was former Iowa Republican congressman Fred Grandy.)

Also … check out NPR's interactive election map, highlighting every Senate, gubernatorial and key House race in the country, with early projections.

This day in campaign history: Pennsylvania's gubernatorial primaries have Lt. Gov. Raymond Shafer easily winning the Republican contest over former Minnesota Gov. Harold Stassen, and on the Democratic side, wealthy industrialist Milton Shapp scores a major upset over the party-endorsed candidate, state Sen. Bob Casey (May 17, 1966). Shafer will go on to defeat Shapp in November, but Shapp will be elected governor in 1970 and '74. Casey himself will come back and win the governorship in 1986 and '90.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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