Rick Santorum first won election to Congress in 1990, largely by blasting veteran Democratic Rep. Doug Walgren for living outside his Pennsylvania congressional district for most of the year. More than a decade later, while a member of the Senate, Santorum enrolled five of his children in a Pennsylvania-based charter school in western Pennsylvania although his family resided most of the year in Northern Virginia.
The on-line charter school district announced in November 2004 that it did not believe Santorum met residency requirements and demanded repayment of $67,000 in tuition costs. Although Santorum was later absolved of any penalties, Democrats were quick to label him a hypocrite for doing precisely what he had criticized Walgren of doing. That controversy contributed to Santorum’s resounding defeat two years later at the hands of Democrat Robert Casey Jr.
Until now, stories like that have received scant attention on the Republican presidential campaign trail because the former lawmaker and lawyer was barely a blip on the political radar screen. Though he relentlessly crisscrossed Iowa’s 99 counties in his trademark sweater vests and hammered away in debates at better-known and better-financed challengers, analysts once predicted that Santorum would be among the first to drop out of the race.
But in the wake of his striking performance in Tuesday night’s Iowa caucuses – falling just eight votes short of former governor Mitt Romney’s first-place finish-- Santorum can expect to come under intense scrutiny in the coming weeks.
In a remarkable sign of how badly splintered the GOP has become, Romney barely eked out a victory after a long night of vote counting with 30,015 votes or 25 percent of the total, compared to 30,007 votes or 25 percent of the total for Santorum. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a darling of libertarians, finished third with 26,219 caucus votes, or 21 percent, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich finished a distant fourth, with 16,251 votes or 13 percent.
Just as Gingrich saw his brief surge in the polls collapse under the heat of media scrutiny and negative campaign ads, Santorum invariably will undergo similar treatment.
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank predicted that, given more time in the spotlight, Santorum “would reveal himself to be a hard-edged Dan Quayle.” CNN contributing analyst Dana Loesch said last night: “When they [the media and opponents] start looking at his record in the Senate, that’s it.”
Santorum boasts of his Italian roots, and of his father and mother who both worked for the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Butler, Pa. Santorum practiced law in Pittsburgh before entering politics. He won his first election to the House in 1990 in a heavily Democratic suburban Pittsburgh district when he was only 32. Four years later, in 1994, Santorum unseated Democratic Senator Harris Wofford, and then won reelection six years later.
As Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, Santorum directed the communications operations of Senate Republicans and was a frequent party spokesperson while he angled for a top GOP leadership post. He also served on the Senate Agriculture Committee; the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; the Senate Special Committee on Aging; and the Senate Finance Committee, of which he was the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Social Security and Family Policy.
During the lame-duck session of the 109th Congress, Santorum was one of only two senators who voted against Robert Gates to become Secretary of Defense in President George W. Bush’s administration. He cited his opposition to Gates' advocacy of engaging Iran and Syria to solve the problem, claiming that talking to "radical Islam" would be a grievous error.
During his disastrous third term Senate re-election campaign against Casey, Santorum introduced the term "Islamic fascism,” while questioning his opponent's “ability to make the right decisions on national security at a time when 'our enemies are fully committed to our destruction.” Santorum was defeated 59 percent to 41 percent -- the largest margin of defeat for an incumbent Senator since 1980.
Here are nine other things you ought to know about Santorum:
- As a young lawyer, he worked at the Pittsburgh law firm of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart where he represented the World Wrestling Federation. In is most high-profile case, he argued that professional wrestling was not technically a sport, and therefore wasn’t subject to federal steroid regulations.
- In 2008, he endorsed his current rival, Mitt Romney, for the GOP presidential nomination. In a press release, he called Romney “the candidate who will stand up for the conservative principles that we hold dear.” Last Sunday on Fox News, Santorum described his 2008 move as “a calculated political decision,” based on his opposition to Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and his belief at the time that Romney had the best chance of winning Super Tuesday. “I would have loved to have Mike Huckabee out there, but I made the political judgment, right or wrong.”
- He is perhaps one of the most reviled politicians among gay marriage advocates following a 2003 interview in which he said same-sex marriage was a gateway to condoning bestiality and pedophilia. Infuriated by the remarks, sex columnist Dan Savage held a contest with readers, asking them for suggestions for how to define “Santorum” as a lewd term.
- He characterizes U.S. anti-terrorism efforts only as the “War With Radical Islam,” rather than the more common moniker of “War on Terror.” In a November debate he said “We are not fighting a war on terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic. We are fighting a war against radical Islam...What all the radical Islamic leaders are saying is just ‘Wait America out. America is weak, they will not stand for the fight… we will be the strong horse in the region.’ President Obama, by making political decision after political decision about timelines and constraints on rules of engagement has validated everything these radical Islamists are saying.”
- He is the only GOP candidate on the trail to endorse reforming the tax code to promote heterosexual marriage and child rearing. Santorum wants to triple the child tax credit, which is currently $1,000 per child, and eliminate parts of the tax code which hike taxes on married couples. His broader corporate and individual tax reform ideas are more in line with the other GOP candidates. He would cut the top corporate rate on U.S. companies from 35 percent to 17.5 percent, but exempt companies that manufacture goods in the United States. He would eliminate four of the six personal income tax brackets, keeping only the 10 and 28 percent brackets.
- Despite a strong showing in Iowa, his campaign war chest is much smaller than the other candidates. Santorum has raised $1.2 million compared to Mitt Romney’s $32.2 million, Rick Perry’s $17.2 million, Ron Paul’s $12.8 million, and Newt Gingrich’s $2.9 million. He discussed black people as recipients of federal entitlement dollars, telling a crowd in Sioux City, Iowa last weekend that he does not want to "make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money.” He responded to criticism on Fox News saying, “I don’t single out any group of people… I condemn all forms of racism. This is just someone trying to cause trouble.”
- He wrote the partial-birth abortion ban legislation that passed the Senate in 2003, which the Supreme Court upheld in 2007.
- He has come under fire in recent weeks from GOP rivals Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry for demanding earmarks for Pennsylvania during his tenure in Congress. In an ad, Perry accused Santorum of voting for more than $1 billion in earmarks during his 16 years in Congress—which Santorum does not refute, and in fact, defends. “I don’t regret going out at the time and making sure that the people of Pennsylvania, who I was elected to represent, got resources back into the state after spending money,” Santorum said on NBC’s Meet the Press last weekend.
- Santorum and his wife, Karen Garver Santorum, have seven children. Their daughter, Isabella “Bella” Maria, born in 2008, was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, a serious genetic disorder which is fatal before birth in 90 per cent of cases. In 1996, their son Gabriel Michael was born prematurely and lived for only two hours. Karen Santorum wrote a book about the experience: "Letters to Gabriel: The True Story of Gabriel Michael Santorum." In it, she writes that the couple brought the deceased infant home from the hospital and introduced the dead child to their living children as "your brother Gabriel" and slept with the body overnight before returning it to the hospital.