The Poll that Matters
Will Pennsylvania voters defy conventional wisdom and reelect Santorum?


Kathryn Jean Lopez

For months now, my inbox has been overflowing with premature celebratory e-mails. In recent days, semi-non-stop:

To: Kathryn Lopez
Subject: You need Rick Santorum?

You can have him in about 5 days…he’ll be available to mow your yard, homeschool your kids, and protect your livestock so those packs of roving gay men don’t try any buggery on them.

“3 days to the de-santorumization of the Senate of the Republic.”

If polls are an indication, some angry people will get the chance to celebrate Tuesday night. They may want Dems to win generally, but they’ll be watching one Senate seat in particular: They want to watch the defeat of Rick Santorum.

I’m not talking about people who disagree with him on, say, the threat from Iran. I’m not talking about people who disagree with him on privatizing Social Security. I don’t mean people who disagree with him on a federal marriage amendment. I mean people who think it’s pretty funny that when you Google the senator’s name, you get a repulsive lower-case version of his last name, a word invented by sex columnist Dan Savage that refers to anal sex.

Next to President Bush — type in “miserable failure” on Google — Santorum is the politician most successfully victimized by nasty Internet political tactics. Reasonable people are doing it. The libertarian magazine Reason has even nodded to the reference in their weblog in the last week. Otherwise smart people succumb to the temptation.

Why do they hate Santorum so? Partly because of what Democrat Chris Matthews likes about him: that he says what he believes, even if it’s unpopular, and it’s often something important to say. Some of his most ardent critics latch onto an unfortunate sound bite or out-of-context quote and don’t look any deeper, or at the record. He is a man of principle who is serving in public office because he believes that we are at an important time in history and that he can continue to do good through his work as a senator. While in Congress, he has been a leader on welfare reform, religious liberty, and working to combat AIDS in Africa.

Ironically, premature analysis suggests his leadership is exactly what could do him in today. That’s his problem, one blogger on The American Prospect’s website concluded:

the Santorum strategy isn’t merely to deny that he’s a conservative, it’s also to affirm that he’s a conservative! And a libertarian! And a progressive! Given the breadth of the coalition such a uniter could theoretically muster, Bob Casey must be one helluva candidate to remain so far out ahead.

In the final analysis, I think this multiplicity of personas doomed Santorum. He had elements of a new, Christian Democrat progressivism, but he was too much of a pro-business conservative to embrace its economic imperatives, and too much of a social conservative to gain centrist credibility from it…

in trying to be all things to all people, Santorum wasn’t enough to anyone in particular. 

Or maybe, just maybe, we political observers — watching the Rs and Ds and doing head-counts and reading the e-mail from, often, the fringes — are all a bit too jaded. Maybe, just maybe, he’s got integrity. And maybe, just maybe, that’s something Pennsylvania voters appreciate.

There’s a let’s-do-what-needs-to-be-done sense from Santorum. It was just a few lines in a debate closer, but there was an authenticity to Santorum’s “I’m a passionate guy. I’m tough, I’m a fighter. But you know what? I’m an Italian kid from a steel town. What do you expect from me?” last month. Remarkably, though consistently down in the polls, he’s given this electoral fight everything he’s got. He talks about deep, important stuff, the kinds of things that could bum out any political rally: the threat of Islamo-fascism, what to do about Iran. These things are important, so he talks about them. He writes a book because he has a contribution to make to conservative thinking — knowing full well not everyone will agree and before an election probably isn’t the most convenient time.

As David Brooks put it last week, maybe you don’t agree with him on everything, but the guy’s a leader–and a leader for those who most need it. For the world’s poor. For the defenseless — including the unborn, who have no better defender than Santorum. As Peggy Noonan put it, we need his kind.

If he doesn’t win tonight, he’ll be disappointed, but that guy and his wife have the kind of sense of something greater than themselves and much more important than election wins and losses that I suspect they’ll be true winners, regardless. As Noonan hinted, they’ll likely be praying for the people celebrating their loss.

It’s a tough race, in a tough environment, as Santorum himself is wont to say. But a (Democratic) Governor Ed Rendell internal poll yesterday evidently had Santorum only five points behind. Long written off, this race is in play.

In other words, Pennsylvania, this one is up to you.

And if you care to save me from a few gleefully hostile e-mails tonight, I certainly won’t complain.

 – Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.