Santorum had rocky past at Penn and in Philadelphia


Santorum's conservative stance may not appeal to a college demographic


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Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum spoke at Steinhardt Hall in 2007. Penn students have staged numerous protests against him and his policies over the years.

Photo by Alex Lebow


Former presidential hopeful Rick Santorum’s withdrawal from the race does not come as a surprise to many in the Penn community.

Santorum, who served as a Pennsylvania senator from 1995 to 2007, has never seen great popularity in the Philadelphia area.

Political science professor and Undergraduate Chair John Lapinski said though he wouldn’t call Santorum’s relationship with Penn and Philadelphia “bad,” Philadelphia is primarily a Democratic area.

There has been a history of Penn students protesting the former senator’s politics and stances.

Penn Protests

Sixteen students were arrested in 2002 while staging a sit-in at Santorum’s Philadelphia office. They were protesting Santorum’s support for military action in Iraq.

In 2003, students joined with gay rights activists in Philadelphia in a 200-person march in response to Santorum’s comparison of homosexuality to bigamy, incest, polygamy and adultery.

College junior and Lambda Alliance Vice Chair of Political Affairs Jacob Tolan said not much has changed in Santorum’s stance on LGBT rights.

Santorum shows “a deep intolerance for people with different sexual and gender identities,” Tolan said.

He added that while Santorum’s candidacy had “becoming a running joke” within the Lambda community, he was sure that there were some members who did support the campaign.

“The overwhelming majority of people … could not take him seriously as a candidate,” he said.

Santorum came to campus during “Terrorism Week” in 2007 to speak on radical Islam and terrorism. People protested outside of the lecture venue. In addition, midway through the speech, activists from Penn Against War, a student group at the time, walked out.

One activist waved a “WAR IS OVER” sign at Santorum.

‘Hardcore stances’

Most Penn students do not fit into Santorum’s usual demographic of constituents.

“[Santorum’s] constituents were evangelical Christians who didn’t have much money and weren’t very educated,” Lapinski said. “You’d be hard pressed to find many people like that at Penn.”

College Republicans Political Director and College freshman Anthony Cruz said he hadn’t personally met anyone at Penn who supported Santorum.

“I think one of the things to consider is that we are college students, so I think we could see a little more openness to … the social issues,” Cruz said. “I think Santorum and his hardcore stances against the social issues generally polarized many.”

Penn Democrats President and College sophomore Andrew Brown agreed.

“I don’t think that Santorum dropping out of the race is going to make any difference at Penn,” he said.

Brown added that Republicans at Penn are generally more moderate than Santorum, especially on social issues.

According to political columnist and blogger for The Philadelphia Inquirer and public media service WHYY Richard Polman, the general Philadelphia region is less conservative than Santorum.

“Republicans in [the Philadelphia suburbs] tended to be very tolerant on social issues, and those voters have long been turned off by Santorum’s religion-tinged positions,” the writer in residence wrote in an email.

Uneasy at home

Santorum’s decision to withdraw from the race might have had to do with the prospect of losing his home state of Pennsylvania in the April 24 primaries.

“Such a loss would have been seen poorly if he attempts to run for office again in PA,” political science professor Marc Meredith wrote in an email.

Lapinski called Santorum’s withdrawal “political calculus,” adding that Santorum would not have been able to win the number of delegates required to get the nomination.

“He’s a force within the Republican Party,” Lapinksi said. “If he were to stay in and lost Pennsylvania, that reputation would have been hurt.”

Had Santorum lost in Pennsylvania, this would have been the second time he lost an election in the state.

Santorum lost the 2006 senatorial election as a two-time incumbent against Bob Casey, Jr. by over 17 percent.

Polman said Santorum’s loss was part of a broader trend in 2006 of incumbent Republicans and George W. Bush supporters losing their elections. He wrote that Santorum was “out of sync” in 2006 with the Pennsylvania electorate.

Personal missteps may have also affected his 2006 senatorial bid.

“Santorum, legally a Pennsylvania resident, had used local school district tax money to home-school his kids — even though he and his family were basically living in Virginia,” Polman wrote. “That hurt him badly.”

However, Lapinksi said Santorum, despite his withdrawal on April 10, has sent signals that he would like to hold another public office.

“He isn’t done by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.

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