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.