Rick Santorum's Schiavo woes

The Pennsylvania senator raked in some cash during his trip to Florida last month, but he's paying a price in political capital.

Published April 21, 2005 6:46PM (EDT)

The Terri Schiavo controversy is turning out to be a losing issue for Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., despite the fact that he happened to rake in $250,000 in campaign funds during his trip to Florida last month. Results of a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed Santorum's approval rating among Pennsylvania voters at 48-35 percent, down from 52-31 in February. More tellingly, the poll indicated that State Treasurer and Democratic candidate Robert Casey Jr. has widened his lead over Santorum to 49-35 percent in the 2006 race for Santorum's Senate seat. (Casey led by 46-41 percent in Quinnipiac's February poll.)

Why the flagging numbers for Santorum? The Quinnipiac report cites his stance on Social Security and his handling of the Schiavo case; 38 percent of poll respondents said they're less likely to vote for Santorum because of his support for Bush's privatization plan, and 34 percent said his prominent role in the Schiavo case diminished the likelihood that they'd vote for him.

Meanwhile, that $250,000 may be adding up to some additional bad press for the senator. According to Political Money Line, Santorum reported all the earnings from his Florida trip, but did not itemize any expenditures -- not even for the Wal-Mart jet he borrowed to get there. Blogger "Laddy" at MyDD wonders whether Santorum's lack of an expense report means he paid for his fundraising trip with taxpayer dollars: "The fact that there's no reimbursement for the use of the Wal-Mart jet may mean that Santorum used his Senate account to pay for the trip under the guise of meeting with the Schiavo family, though in reality it appears most of his time was actually spent raising money for his Senate campaign."

For some other senators involved in the Schiavo debacle, however, the worst seems to be over. The Hill reported earlier this week that the Senate Rules Committee will drop the matter of the leaked memo that called the Schiavo case "a great political issue" for Republicans. Now that the memo's author, staff counsel to Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., has been fired and hung out to dry, everyone seems to be going along with the story that no one else in the GOP had anything to do with the offending document.

Though one Senate Democratic aide told The Hill of concerns regarding Martinez's credibility and the possibility of "some kind of cover-up" of the memo's true origins, ranking Rules Democrat Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., seemed convinced that Martinez's maneuvering would effectively distance him from the scandal: "I was very impressed about how Senator Martinez handled this thing. He didn't waste a second. I told him, 'You only get one chance to make an impression around here.'"

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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