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Santorum focusing on re-election to Senate, not White House run

Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who holds the No. 3 leadership post in the Republican-controlled Senate, said yesterday that while he would not rule out an eventual run for the presidency, he is focused on winning re-election to the Senate in 2006 and making a bid to become his party's majority whip.

"I'm not saying never," Santorum said when asked about a potential White House run, "but it is my intention to get elected to the Senate and serve my term.

"If you talked to everybody who's thinking about running for president, they're working right now," he said. "They're lining up people, they're making visits to Iowa and New Hampshire this year and they're doing what's necessary to build that political and grass roots support. Let me be very candid. I'm not going to do any of that. If I travel around the country, which I intend to do, it's for one purpose: to raise money for my Senate race in 2006."

If Santorum is re-elected, some have speculated that he might make a run for the White House or make a bid to become majority leader when Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., retires in 2006. But Santorum yesterday said he plans to run for the No. 2 position because he expects the Senate's current majority whip, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, to seek the top leadership spot.

"It's a step up," he said of the Whip position, in which he would be charged with marshaling his party's votes on key issues. "It's an opportunity to have even more say about what goes on around here and I think it plays on a lot of my strengths and what I can do on the floor of the United States Senate."

In the meantime, however, Santorum said he anticipates "a very difficult race" for his seat in 2006 because of Pennsylvania's close split between Democrats and Republicans, his outspoken support for banning gay marriage and other conservative causes, and the likelihood that national liberal organizations will mobilize to try to defeat him.

Democratic Party leaders are courting Pennsylvania Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. to challenge Santorum, and other Democrats have expressed interest in the race, including former Treasurer Barbara Hafer, former Rep. Joseph Hoeffel and state Rep. T.J. Rooney, the state Democratic chairman.

Santorum noted that he won election in 2000 by just 6 percentage points...

"I know I'm on a No. 1 target list," Santorum said, alluding to the Democratic Party's hopes of taking over Republican Senate seats, especially in states with many registered Democrats. "There's no question that if they think they can win this seat they're going to put in a lot of resources"...

"It's going to cost [the Democrats] a million and a half dollars to run an ad to hurt me. That's ten ads in most other states," he said. "So I'll take the fire for a while -- that's O.K. with me if that frees up opportunities for us to win seats other places"...

Santorum said he was continuing to mollify conservatives upset with his support for Sen. Arlen Specter's bid to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The comments of his fellow Pennsylvania Republican about the difficulty he would have in getting anti-abortion Supreme Court nominees confirmed by the Senate sparked an outcry last November. Santorum said he was sure Specter will be "fair" and will smooth the way for President Bush's nominees to get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.

Santorum said a number of anti-abortion activists demonstrating in Washington Monday gave him "an earful" about their displeasure over Specter's chairmanship.

By Maeve Reston, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Jan 26, 2005

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