Toomey endorsement of Santorum not Club policy

The Club for Growth’s president, former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), made it clear yesterday that his decision to endorse Sen. Rick Santorum’s (R-Pa.) 2006 re-election bid did not reflect the Club’s position.

“The Club for Growth and Pat Toomey are two entirely separate entities,” Toomey said yesterday. “I’m endorsing him separately in my own capacity as a private citizen.”

Toomey added that the Club usually avoids general elections.

Club spokeswoman Aimee Steel said of Toomey’s Friday announcement: “It was strictly a personal endorsement.”

The endorsement came despite the fact that Santorum, as Senate Republican Conference chairman, campaigned overtime for Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) in his 2004 primary against Toomey. Toomey narrowly lost the primary.

The Santorum campaign announced the Toomey endorsement in a carefully worded news release on its website.

“When I look at the record of the two major candidates in the race for Senate — what they have done for Pennsylvania, what they have done for our nation, their vision for the future — endorsing Rick Santorum is one of the easiest decisions I have ever made,” Toomey said, according to the website. “I look forward to passionately campaigning for his reelection.”

The Santorum campaign’s announcement made no mention of Toomey’s 2004 Senate bid, Santorum’s involvement in that race or Toomey’s leadership of the Club for Growth. Toomey took the helm of the Club earlier this year.

“Throughout his tenure in the United States House of Representatives, Pat Toomey was a champion for Pennsylvania families’ pocketbooks,” Santorum said, according to the website. “I am very pleased to have received the endorsement of Congressman Toomey, and I look forward to campaigning with him as I lay out my vision for Pennsylvania for the next six years.”

Some Republicans in Washington have fretted that conservatives may buck Santorum next year, in light of his support for Specter, who is despised by many Republican activists for his support of abortion rights, among other issues.

“The fact that Senator Santorum was blatantly supporting Specter, obviously those people may have been a little disappointed,” a Republican aide said, referring to conservative Pennsylvania voters. “There may have been some repair that needed to be done.”

The aide added that the Toomey endorsement prevents Santorum’s likely Democratic opponent, state Treasurer Bob Casey, from “preying on any of the conservatives.” Casey, who opposes abortion rights, has portrayed himself as a centrist Democrat with bipartisan appeal.

Santorum’s media consultant, John Brabender, said the endorsement shows that Republicans, from centrists in Philadelphia’s wealthy Main Line to conservatives in Pennsylvania’s rural Big T, in the middle of the state, are united behind the senator as he seeks a third term.

“What happened is basically after the election of last year, earlier this year, Rick Santorum and Pat Toomey had a meeting. An endorsement was never discussed at that meeting,” Brabender said. “They just said, ‘Let’s make sure that we’re looking forward and not at the past.’ They just sort of shook hands and decided they were on the same side. A few weeks ago, the Toomey people approached us and told us that certainly they wanted to make it known that Pat Toomey was a supporter.”

Toomey said: “I would just say that it’s always helpful to a candidate to have a party united behind him, and so the extent that I can play however modest a role in helping to achieve that, I’m happy to do so.”

Don Morabito, executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, shrugged off the Toomey endorsement. “Where else is Toomey going to go?” Morabito said. “Santorum’s the incumbent. He has no choice. I guess he wants to be a player.”