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Santorum, Toomey address party schism

A lingering feud within the Pennsylvania GOP over last year's heated U.S. Senate primary between Sen. Arlen Specter and former Rep. Pat Toomey is proving costly for Sen. Rick Santorum.

Santorum's support for Specter over Toomey fueled a schism in the party that threatens Santorum's hold on conservatives. Specter is a moderate while Toomey's positions are more in line with Santorum's.

"It's a fluid situation," said Bill Green, a Pittsburgh-based Republican consultant.

Santorum and his closest advisers had not foreseen the conservatives' continued anger. Now, Santorum, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, is asking Toomey to help soothe the anger.

Toomey recently endorsed Santorum, who faces re-election against likely Democratic opponent Robert P. Casey Jr., the state treasurer.

"Obviously there's been some conservative angst," Toomey said.

He said he backed Santorum because of "the importance of having a unified party," but did not want to address whether a problem exists for Santorum.

"In this Senate race there's just no comparison; Rick Santorum is a conservative who will advance that cause. Bob Casey is a liberal who will undermine that movement," Toomey said.

But there was more to the endorsement, which several Republicans said came after Santorum requested Toomey's help.

The endorsement was also important for Toomey, who now runs the conservative Club for Growth. He wants to show he is a team player and to be able to call in chits if he runs for office again.

Santorum aides, conservative activists and party leaders doubt the conservative Republicans angry at Santorum will turn around and vote for Casey, who like Santorum is socially conservative and opposes abortion.

Though the latest Keystone Poll showed Casey's lead over Santorum grew to 13 percentage points and that Santorum is losing ground among Republicans and independent voters, aides note his support remains high among Republicans.

Yet their biggest fear is that the voters who form the grassroots work force -- who stuff envelopes, knock on doors and man phone banks -- will remain on the sidelines. Or worse, not vote.

"There is deep, deep, deep anger," said another Pittsburgh-area Republican who has raised money and campaigned for Santorum since his first congressional race in 1990.

"In this race, the tough thing is nobody hates Bob Casey," she said. "You have all these pro-life people who may not give a dime, but work their asses off, and they're not going to vote for Rick."

The Santorum supporter, who did not want to be identified because of her continued close relationship to Santorum, and some conservatives believe Santorum put his political ambitions, particularly his role as Senate Republican Conference chairman, ahead of his principles.

"One of the challenges for Rick Santorum and his campaign is going to be to completely mend the fences for the conservative base," said Charlie Gerow, a midstate activist.

Toomey's endorsement was a clear signal that Santorum is trying, conservatives said.

Santorum's team wants to get the issue out of the way so they can begin a strong campaign in November.

Elmer Gates, an Allentown attorney, said it would be a disaster for Santorum and Republicans if conservative activists remain split.

"It's like having a fight with your wife and not talking to her again," he said.

Galen Weaber disagreed with Santorum's support for Specter, but understood why he supported him.

"He was in a tough box," said Weaber, owner of Weaber Lumber in Lebanon County.

He doesn't know if the diehard conservatives who fueled Toomey's campaign will support Santorum, but he hopes they will.

"If you talk with people on a one-to-one, they're still frustrated," he said. "But when push comes to shove, I really believe they will be there."

By Brett Lieberman, The Patriot News, Oct 2, 2005

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