In the GOP’s primary race, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is receiving increasing attention from conservative talk radio.
Were he successful in winning the Republican nomination, or simply tapped for Vice President, it could put his home state of Pennsylvania – and its 20 electoral votes – in play for the Republican Party despite Obama’s 10 point victory there in 2008.
Though not presently leading other candidates in the polls, future momentum might prompt a reconsideration of a proposal from the GOP State Senate Majority Leader to change Pennsylvania’s system for awarding electoral votes.
The plan would move Pennsylvania from an all or nothing contest to proportional allocation based on winning specific congressional districts, a system similar to ones practiced in Nebraska and Maine.
Santorum Winning High Praise on the AM Dial
On his September 27th show, Dennis Miller spent a full hour with New York Daily News columnist S.E. Cupp where the two spoke highly of Rick Santorum while discussing participants in the latest Fox News/Google presidential debate.
“I’ve always got a [Rick Lazio] like vibe off of Rick Santorum. But Santorum acquitted himself really admirably at that debate”, Miller began.
S.E. Cupp concurred while noting the former Senator had been gaining momentum in the past few weeks. “He’s the only non-frontrunner moving up in the polls. I think he’s at 11 percent now. That was a great performance for him.”
“I’ve known him for a few years now, I gotta say, I’m probably not his target audience. I find him very impressive.” she added.
Miller, originally from Pittsburgh, echoed her sentiments and declared, “While not as ironic as Romney ending up the governor of Massachusetts, for Santorum to do business in Pennsylvania. That’s a pretty liberal – well union – state. And he wouldn’t be their classic cup of tea it would seem. But he got elected there, and he did a good job for them. As the window opened for somebody to step through [in Pennsylvania], I think with Santorum it closed [in 2006]. He got wacked because that was just the tsunami coming across, and he got caught in the blast site.”
Rush Limbaugh also spoke highly of him the same day, again urging his listeners to disregard narratives by moderate Republicans and disaffected Democrats that it is a two man race and that Rick Santorum – as well as Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Newt Gingrich – cannot win general elections.
Competitive in PA
Some Republicans emphasize that Santorum’s social conservatism would be anathema to his home state’s progressive base in its populous southeast area. The region, in combination with support from the Democrats’ stronghold in Pittsburgh, has thwarted GOP Presidential ambitions in the keystone state since 1992.
Admitedly the state’s Philadelphia environs are somewhat more liberal, particularly on social issues.
The Allegheny county area around Pittsburgh is a different story. Democrats in the state’s west are more conservative, older, and blue collar – exactly the voters among whom Obama performs so poorly. And Santorum is actually a native son of the area, ideally positioning him to capitalize on this erosion of Democrat Party support.
In fact, Santorum didn’t begin his political career in a conservative rural area; he beat an incumbent from a congressional district in the very Pittsburgh’s suburbs likely to emerge as an election battleground in 2012.
True, Bob Casey Jr. crushed Senator Santorum in Pennsylvania during the 2006 congressional elections. But that year was a massacre for Republicans that resulted in Democrats seizing control of both chambers of Congress.
Moreover, it’s something that happened over half a decade ago. At best it’s old news that provides a talking point for his rivals.
Impact on Proposed Changes to PA Electoral Votes
Whether Santorum ends up on the GOP presidential ticket remains to be seen. It’s no longer the kind of long shot that it seemed when he announced his candidacy in June. He’s not within striking distance of leading the pack, but talk radio speaks well of him – and its listeners are a core GOP constituency.
Momentum matters too. The simple truth is he is gaining ground at a time when all the GOP candidates once labeled as “top-tier” are either stalled in the polls or are seeing their numbers crash.
This fact may have some bearing on whether the GOP state legislature in Harrisburg pursues a proposal made by State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi to change Pennsylvania’s allocation of electoral votes. Pennsylvania’s high standing in the electoral college as a huge swing state prize, albeit one that leans Democrat, makes the proposal one of enormous local and national significance.
The Chester county State Senator’s plan, supported by Republican Governor Tom Corbett, would award 18 of the state’s electoral votes to the winner of each of its congressional districts, leaving the remaining 2 to the statewide winner of Pennsylvania. Under the proposal in 2008, John McCain would have won 10 of the state’s 21 electoral votes despite losing to Obama by roughly 10 percentage points.
The idea of proportional allocation in Pennsylvania was originally a Democrat brainchild. However, the plan – opposed by some in the GOP – would appear to be one that handicaps Obama’s prospects in 2012.
However, this was before it became plausible that the GOP nominee for President, or simply Vice President, could be a keystone state native. Were that the case, Pennsylvania could be even more competitive in 2012 than 2004 – when the GOP lost the state by 2.5 percent. And given the population shifts in the 2010 census, there are a number of possible electoral outcomes where the loss of over half a dozen votes for the GOP could cost it victory in a close election.
Moreover, abolishing the state’s winner take all system curtails the attractiveness of ever putting any Pennsylvania politician at the top or bottom of a national ticket.
Whether the improving prospects of Rick Santorum’s campaign are enough to get the Republican Party in Pennsylvania to drop the plan is an open question.
But, it’s sure to give them pause.
Podcasts and recaps of Dennis Miller’s radio show are available here
PA State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi’s official website is available here