Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Romney Attacks on Santorum’s Turf

Mitt Romney has put the brakes on a TV ad attacking Rick Santorum — one that highlights the blistering defeat the former Pennsylvania senator suffered in his 2006 reelection bid — as Santorum spends time with his ailing daughter. But with Santorum’s people announcing plans to head back to the campaign trail, expect the ad running in Santorum’s home state to resume as well.

The ad reminds Pennsylvanians of the trouncing Santorum got in his last election in 2006. Democrat Bob Casey Jr., beat the incumbent Santorum by 17 percentage points in 2006, as Santorum sought a third term. The ad’s narrator concludes, “We fired him as senator. Why promote him to president?”

There’s no denying that Santorum lost to Casey by a wide margin. The ad features a clip from a newscaster at the time summing up Santorum’s poor showing: “He lost across the board with voters – among Democrats and independents, women and men, blacks and whites, young and old, rich and poor.”

Exit polls at the time back that up (though Santorum did win 86 percent of the Republican vote).

The ad’s narrator quotes Politico‘s assessment of Santorum’s 17-point loss as “historically embarrassing.” That’s a subjective term. But as we wrote in February, entrepreneur Donald Trump was wrong when he claimed that Santorum lost his Senate seat in 2006 by a wider margin than any incumbent senator in history. There have been two dozen incumbent senators who have taken worse beatings than Santorum did in 2006. Most recently, incumbent Democrat Blanche Lincoln lost her Senate seat in 2010 by 21 percentage points. But you have to go back to 1946 to find an incumbent Pennsylvania senator who lost by a wider margin than Santorum.

The ad’s narrator also notes that Santorum “lost his home county by 30 points.” That’s true. In Allegheny County (which takes in the city of Pittsburgh), Casey beat Santorum by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent. It’s also true that in Allegheny County, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans more than 2-to-1. In fact, Santorum lost his home county in both 1994 and 2000 as well — years that he won the state.

And we would be remiss if we did not mention that there is one other presidential candidate who lost a Senate bid by 17 percentage points. Romney lost to Democrat Ted Kennedy in the 1994 Massachusetts Senate race. Santorum enjoyed the advantage of incumbency, but as BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski noted, Romney lost in an exceptionally good year for Republican candidates, and Santorum was ousted in a particularly dreadful year for Republicans.

Romney is looking to end Santorum’s campaign in his own backyard, as evidenced by the multimillion-dollar ad buy in Pennsylvania. But when Santorum temporarily suspended his campaign to be with his ailing daughter, Romney pulled the attack ad. A Santorum campaign official reported Monday that his daughter was doing much better and that Santorum would return to the campaign trail on Tuesday.

— Robert Farley