Before Rick Santorum was a presidential candidate in Election 2012 he was a ranking member of the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania. Because voters ousted him after two terms the Santorum Senate loss raised questions about his electability in the race for the White House.
Background: Santorum was chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, the third-highest ranking position in the party leadership, when Democrat Robert P. Casey Jr., the son of a popular former Pennsylvania governor, challenged him in the 2006 election.
Casey beat Santorum by 708,206 votes or 17.4 percentage points, the most lopsided victory for a Democratic Senate candidate in history and the widest margin of any of the 2006 Senate contests.
The results were:
- Robert P. Casey Jr.: 58.7% - 2,392,984 votes
- Rick Santorum: 41.3% - 1,684,778 votes
Factors in Santorum Senate loss: Veteran political analysts in Pennsylvania attribute Santorum's Senate loss to a broad array of factors ranging from his ties to an increasingly unpopular president to his penchant to make controversial statement to simple bad timing.
Here are five major factors behind Santorum's loss:
- Iraq: The war in Iraq was growing increasingly unpopular with the American public in 2006, but Santorum remained one of the operation's strongest supporters. In fact, Santorum was among several lawmakers who insisted that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq despite evidence to the contrary acknowledged at the time by the White House and intelligence community. In June 2006, Santorum was quoted as saying: "We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons." A CNN poll in the summer of 2006 found 61 percent of the American public in opposition to the war, the highest level of opposition since the war had begun three years earlier.
- George W. Bush: The Republican president was in his second term and his approval ratings were in steady decline. Bush began the mid-term election year with only 43 percent of Americans approving of the job he was doing, and 54 percent disapproving. The numbers only got worse, and by the time the November elections came around only a third of the nation was behind him, according to the Gallup organization. Those numbers proved to be difficult to overcome for candidates so closely linked to Bush, both ideologically and personally, and Santorum certainly was. "Through much of the campaign, Santorum was on the defensive. The one-time firebrand iconoclast metamorphosed into reactionary defender of the Washington status quo," wrote Pennsylvania political analysts G. Terry Madonna and Michael L. Young. "It was a role thrust upon him—and one he did not wear well."
- The late Gov. Bob Casey: The popular former Pennsylvania governor loomed large over the 2006 U.S. Senate race. Voters who recalled the Democrat's tenure in office with fondness were likely to have similar feelings for his son of the same name, who held many of the same positions on major issues - most important on abortion. Casey Jr.'s opposition to abortion rights essential stole a major campaign issue from the social conservative Santorum.
- Controversial Comments: Santorum also found it difficult to live down his controversial comments that appeared to compare gay sex acts to incest, bigamy and adultery. In an interview with The Associated Press about a legal challenge to the Texas anti-sodomy law, Santorum said: "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything."
- Controversy in Pennsylvania: Perhaps least mentioned of the factors that led to Santorum's Senate loss in 2006 was an intense anti-incumbent fervor among Pennsylvania voters that year. The electorate was in a "throw-the-bums-out" mood because the Legislature, a year earlier, had passed unpopular pay raises amounted to as much as 54 percent for themselves. The raises, passed in the middle of the night and without any public notice or input, infuriated Pennsylvanians to such a point that lawmakers eventually reversed course and repealed their raises. Still, the next time they were up for re-election - in 2006 - voters took revenge. They forced out dozens of Pennsylvania's state House and Senate members, but their anger carried over to other races, including that for U.S. Senate between Santorum and Casey.