Campaign Crawlers

Republicans Turn on Santorum

A pro-abortion Specter-affiliated group takes dead aim at Pennsylvania's embattled conservative. Is that the thanks he gets?

By 3.2.06

Send to Kindle

Does party loyalty run both ways among Republican senators? That remains to be seen after Republican Majority for Choice (RMC), a pro-abortion caucus within the GOP, began a spirited attack on Sen. Rick Santorum this week.

RMC launched full- and quarter-page ads in nearly every major daily newspaper in Pennsylvania -- mock "Help Wanted" announcements calling for "Real Republican Candidates for Senate." The ad advocates "the Big Tent philosophy Ronald Reagan helped to build," and warns in bold, "Candidates who claim to be Republicans but instead use the Party to further their own personal or religious agenda need not apply." While the ad never names Santorum explicitly, its pro-abortion and anti-religious opposition to him is unmistakable.

With eight days between the launch of the ad campaign and the March 7 petition filing deadline for the Pennsylvania primaries, the search for "real" Republican primary opponents to Santorum appears half-hearted. Two thousand signatures would be required for a challenger to make it on to the ballot. Rather than a search, RMC's ad campaign could signal open hostility among Republican senators. This move comes in the midst of speculation that Kate Michelman, former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, will run as an independent in the Senate race.

Jennifer Blei Stockman, national co-chair of the RMC, confirmed that while the group is targeting Santorum, its strategy looks past the March 7 filing deadline. She told TAS Thursday that her group had "exhausted" all possibilities for candidates in the past several months. While RMC hopes another candidate "surfaces," Stockman said, "The ad is meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that we cannot continue electing candidates like Rick Santorum because he's not helping the party's image."

The RMC campaign places Sen. Arlen Specter in a precarious position, as he sits on the group's advisory committee. In a move widely viewed as placing party loyalty over conservative principles, Santorum backed the pro-abortion Specter in the 2004 Senate primary against kindred conservative then-Rep. Pat Toomey. Now with Santorum on the ropes, liberal Republicans are refusing to return the favor -- and Arlen Specter's name is attached to their effort.

Joe Sterns, Pat Toomey's former press secretary, told TAS that Specter should oppose the RMC ad campaign. "It's a fair commentary on the pro-abortion rights Republicans," he said. "It betrays their hypocrisy as preachers of a big tent. I would encourage Senator Specter and others of their ilk to use their leadership to tell this group to knock it off."

When TAS contacted Specter's office about the ad Thursday, he disavowed it in a statement: "While I am on the Advisory Committee, my advice was neither solicited nor given on the ad. My preference would be to be a little more conciliatory in trying to bring together the various elements of our party. Regardless of the sentiments expressed in the ad, my number one priority for 2006 continues to be the reelection of Senator Santorum." Specter's office would not answer questions as to whether the senator plans to protest the ad to RMC's leadership or resign from the group.

Another pro-abortion Republican senator on the RMC advisory committee benefiting from the party's large tent is Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. To the chagrin of conservatives, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is supporting the liberal Republican over his conservative challenger, Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey. Chafee is also the choice of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Chafee's office declined to voice disapproval of RMC's tactics. Stephen Hourahan, Chafee's press secretary, told TAS, "Senator Chafee supports all of his Republican colleagues and he is committed to their reelection." Hourahan denied that the ad targets Sen. Santorum. Officials from the Chafee campaign were unavailable for comment.

RMC co-chair Stockman argued that Santorum merits such extraordinary attention and opposition because his emphasis on social conservatism is hurting the party and his own candidacy. "We think there's a line that needs to be drawn between more extremist Republicans like Rick Santorum, who are there for more social issues, and the more important economic issues. He distracts from that agenda by bringing up these controversial issues. It confuses people as to where the Republican Party stands today."

Pressed to define better RMC's views, Stockman acknowledged that the group didn't support or oppose the federal partial birth abortion ban, but said, "We're a conservative group on other issues. We're fiscal conservatives. We support our President in the war against terrorism. But we do draw the line at proselytizing. We think that's completely inappropriate for politics."

The RMC is using the same strategy as conservative interest groups within the Republican Party, Stockman insisted. "We've always kept our mouths shut. This is the first time in our history that we're going after one of our own," she said. "We think the only way to create a dialogue on these important issues is by playing by the same rules as the Club for Growth, the National Right to Life Committee has been playing by, by going after candidates we don't agree with." Stockman said that regardless of her group's differences with Santorum, it would "never support a Casey." Bob Casey Jr. is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the Senate race and claims to be pro-life.

How Senators Specter and Chafee handle the anti-Santorum maneuvers of the Republican Majority for Choice will be telling. Certain pro-life and conservative Republicans chose party unity and even personal interest over principled politics when they turned on Toomey. If Specter and Chafee continue to lend their names to the Republican Majority for Choice, conservative Republicans will be revealed as cynical politicians who shovel money to their ideological opponents.

UPDATE: On late Friday, Senator Specter released a letter defending Santorum and distancing himself from the RMC's advertisements. It is posted at AmSpecBlog.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

David Holman is a reporter for The American Spectator.