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The Journal Gazette

  • FILE - In this April 3, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks in Cranberry, Pa. Rick Santorum boasts that deep conservative values make him a stronger challenger against President Barack Obama this fall than likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012 9:36 am

SPIN METER: Santorum looks moderate in 2006 flier

By ANDREW MIGAAssociated Press

Rick Santorum boasts that his deep conservative values make him a stronger challenger against President Barack Obama this fall than likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney. It's an argument he is making in his home state of Pennsylvania, where a primary victory in two weeks is critical to a campaign already seen by many as all but hopeless.

Yet Santorum showed a considerably more moderate face in a campaign brochure from his failed 2006 Senate race in Pennsylvania. It highlighted how he steered big federal dollars to the state and teamed with rock star Bono to fight AIDS and global poverty.

Titled "50 Things You May Not Know About Rick Santorum," the pamphlet played up his role in boosting federal spending for food stamps, schools, heating aid for the poor, Amtrak, the environment and prescription drugs for seniors - programs more often championed by Democrats and derided by conservatives like the GOP primary voters Santorum now courts.

A sampling:

-"Rick has been one of the Senate's most active leaders in fighting for funding to battle world AIDS and to help eliminate world poverty, working closely with Bono, the lead singer of U2."

-"Rick is the author of the `Pet Animal Welfare Statute' ... (that) cracks down on puppy mills, who harm animals at the expense of unknowing pet owners. Rick has been praised by the National Humane Society for his work on this issue."

-"Rick wrote legislation that would increase the national minimum wage."

-"Rick joined with Democratic Senator Chris Dodd to introduce legislation to battle Lyme disease."

As a conservative challenger trying to shake Romney's grasp on the nomination, Santorum is taking a different approach, including proposing to cut government spending and scale back entitlement programs. His home state is one of five holding presidential primary elections on April 24.

"We need a conservative," Santorum said recently on "Fox News Sunday" to explain why he's staying in the race. "We need someone who can be a contrast with Barack Obama, not the same old tired establishment person that's going to be shoved down our throat."

In 2006, Santorum was trying to do the opposite: soften his conservative edge and present a more moderate face to voters in the traditional battleground state of Pennsylvania against Democrat Bob Casey. Casey's opposition to abortion and gun control undercut Santorum's conservative base of support.

Back then, Santorum boasted about bringing home federal dollars for some of the same programs he now ridicules as big-government bloat.

Santorum's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

On the presidential campaign trail, Santorum rails against big government and says he wants to cut $5 trillion in federal spending over five years. He calls for freezing defense spending for five years, along with money for social programs such as Medicaid and education. To spur the economy, he wants to repeal a slew of government regulations put in place by Obama. This emphasis on more conservative positions is not unlike what his rival, Romney, has found himself doing throughout the primary season.

The 2006 pamphlet showcased Santorum's votes "for record levels of funding for Pennsylvania's public schools" and touted his efforts to win federal funding for early childhood development programs such as Head Start, which is designed to serve poor children and offers a broad range of social services.

Yet in the presidential contest, Santorum has taken a different tack, arguing to dramatically curtail the role states and the federal government play in running schools. He touts his home schooling of his own children and criticizes early childhood education programs as an attempt by government to "indoctrinate your children."

"Not only do I believe the federal government should get out of the education business, I think the state government should start to get out of the education business and put it back with the local and into the community," Santorum said in a GOP presidential debate earlier this year in Arizona.

The brochure played up Santorum's efforts "to make sure Pennsylvania seniors have a prescription drug plan under Medicare" that dramatically lowers costs and prevents seniors from financial ruin due to prescription drug costs.

In the Senate, Santorum was a leading advocate for extending Medicare prescription drug benefits to seniors, a measure that conservative critics lambasted as a huge entitlement expansion that would swell the federal budget deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars. As a presidential candidate, he's called that vote a mistake.

Pennsylvania has long been a swing state that can't be taken for granted by either party. To win there, conservative candidates often need to appeal to moderate voters.

As a senator, Santorum went to bat for his state's interests. He battled food stamp cuts and pressed for more federal money for Amtrak and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides fuel aid to the poor. Such programs are popular in Pennsylvania, but they're seen by many conservatives as examples of a bloated federal government.

"He doesn't sound like a small-government conservative," said pollster and political science professor G. Terry Madonna of Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania. "Santorum was a big-government conservative. The evidence was overwhelming."

Pennsylvania is a large, diverse state that has undergone a transition from its old reliance on manufacturing and coal to an economy based more on technology and information, Madonna said. Santorum and his Pennsylvania congressional colleagues were often responding to the many demands created by those changes, he added.

"Deficits back then were not nearly as much a part of the political discussion as they are today," said Madonna, citing the rise of the tea party in the 2010 races. "It was a different era."

Santorum's reach for the political center fell far short, largely because of his views on hot-button social issues such as same-sex marriage and his support for President George W. Bush and the Iraq war. He lost his re-election bid by 18 percentage points, the first time the state had elected a Democrat to a full term in the Senate since 1962.