Political consultants: Santorum’s ‘swing state’ math may be fuzzy

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
Font Size:

During Tuesday night’s debate in Las Vegas, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum argued that his success winning elections against Democratic incumbents in Pennsylvania — a swing state — would give him an edge against President Barack Obama in 2012. But election consultants who spoke with The Daily Caller on Wednesday said Santorum’s electoral-math argument may not carry water in 2012.

“No one [else] in this field has won a swing state,” Santorum said. “Pennsylvania is a swing state. We win Pennsylvania, we win the election ”

“I’ve won it twice,” he continued. “I defeated a Democratic incumbent, winning it the first time, and I won the state of Pennsylvania — the only senator to win a state who was a conservative that George Bush lost. Bush lost it by 5, I won it by 6.” (SEE ALSO: Perry promoted flat tax as part of new economic plan)

Santorum has struggled in the polls, remaining in single digits throughout the first handful of GOP primary debates. Still, he remains hopeful that his past successes against liberal politicians will make him more palatable to practical-minded voters.

“Nobody in this field has won a major race against a Democratic incumbent except me,” Santorum said on the debate stage Tuesday.”No one has won a swing state except me, as a conservative.”

Political consultants, however, are skeptical that this record makes him a viable candidate.

“The fact that Santorum beat an incumbent in a swing state in 1994 is technically true, but irrelevant to 2012,” political consultant Dan Hazelwood said in an email to TheDC.

“’Can Santorum deliver Pennsylvania?’ is an argument to be put on the ticket as VP in 1928 — not nominated [president] in 2012. These irrelevant points are why Santorum is having a hard time in this campaign.” he added.

Polls of Pennsylvania voters suggest that while Santorum does better there than elsewhere, a repeat performance of his past successes is not necessarily in the cards. A Quinnipiac poll, the most recent one in the state, found in September that Santorum has an upside-down favorability rating there, with 33 percent of voters saying they have a favorable opinion of him and 37 percent of voters saying they have an unfavorable view.

In a head-to-head matchup against President Barack Obama – who has a 45–49 upside-down favorability among Pensylvanians — Santorum would lose by a 42–45 margin. Independents would break for Obama, 45 percent to 38 percent.

“I think he would have a hard time winning Pennsylvania. I think he’d probably have a harder time than Mitt,” said one Pennsylvania-based Republican political consultant, adding that Obama would also have a difficult go in the state.

But, the consultant added, “I certainly would never count Rick Santorum out.”

Republican consultant Jim Dyke pointed out that even if what Santorum said in the debate is technically true, he was ultimately voted out of office in 2006 by a large margin.

“PA voters overwhelmingly rejected Rick Santorum as their Senator so it is doubtful at best that they would vote for him for President even against President Obama,” Dyke wrote in an email. “The idea that he can deliver any swing state in a general election campaign is just as delusional as the notion that he could be the Republican nominee.”

That perception, suggested Republican consultant Chuck Warren, is behind much of Santorum’s inability to raise money. His campaign raised just $704,000 in the third quarter of 2011.

“It’s a nice spin, but he also lost his blue state, re-election battle so not many voters or donors buy it,” Warren said.

“His initial fundraising woes are due to part to the fact that he lost re-election by double digits hence donors didn’t view him as a strong candidate. He is smart, a fighter, and a good man. Maybe he will catch some fire in Iowa — never say never.”