Yardley, Pa. — Growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I never dreamed of a Pennsylvanian as president. James Buchanan, the only man from the Keystone State ever to ascend to the presidency, was a dismal bachelor executive who left office in March 1861. Since then, the state has produced other White House aspirants, such as Democratic governor Milton Shapp in 1976 and Republican senator Arlen Specter in 1996, but they were stumblers and their bids quickly forgotten.
Rick Santorum was a C-list Fox News pundit and damaged-goods former senator when he announced his improbable candidacy last year, and many politicos expected him to join the ranks of Shapp and Specter. It was going to be a vanity run for an ambitious Italian-American kid from Butler, Pa., who wanted one last turn in the national spotlight. After this final bout in the arena, he’d fully retreat into the K Street coterie of influence peddling and punditry, as so many ex-lawmakers do.
Iowa changed everything. Santorum, surprising even his closest aides, began to campaign like it was 1990, when he was an unknown upstart gunning for a congressional seat near Pittsburgh. He took off his suit jacket and put on a sweater-vest. For what seemed like the first time in years, he began to smile. In the mid-2000s, we’d all come to view Santorum as a grim culture warrior, but the snarl faded as he traveled around the Hawkeye State in a battered Dodge pickup.