Santorum surge poses dilemma for lawmakers

Rick Santorum’s recent surge in the polls has presented a dilemma for Pennsylvania lawmakers.

Of the state’s 13 GOP House and Senate lawmakers, only one lawmaker has endorsed Santorum for the party’s presidential nomination.

Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) told The Hill this week that he decided to support Santorum several months ago. But that backing, up until now, has received no press attention. Furthermore, it has not been announced by the Santorum campaign.

“Right after he first announced I had a conversation with him. He certainly had my support, financially and by attending a local event in the 5th district, as well as one that was down in the Hershey area,” Thompson said. 

But Thompson’s colleagues have not jumped on board. No other member in Congress has backed Santorum, even though he has served in both the House and the Senate.

The Hill contacted the other members of the Pennsylvania Republican delegation to ascertain whether they are mulling getting behind Santorum’s bid.

For the most part, the responses were the same: No endorsement at this time.

Rep. Joe Pitts’s (R-Pa.) spokesman, Andrew Wimer, said that the conservative lawmaker “is not considering endorsing any candidate right now.”

Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), who said during his time as Hazelton’s mayor that he had an “excellent working relationship with Rick Santorum,” is also declining to endorse at this time.

“I prefer to let the primary process play out before making an endorsement. I might endorse a candidate in the future, but now is not the appropriate time to do so,” Barletta said.

Even the campaign manager for Santorum’s successful 1994 Senate race, Rep. Pat Meehan (R), has opted against endorsing.

Meehan spokeswoman Maureen Keith told The Hill that the freshman lawmaker “has not endorsed any candidate.”

The lack of delegation support stands in stark contrast to that of candidates such as Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, who have garnered endorsement from a number of their respective native state’s lawmakers. Perry has seven from Texas and Gingrich has five from the Georgia delegation.

Part of the reason Santorum has not attracted more backing from his home state is that most of the delegation is being targeted in the 2012 election. Republicans who could face challenging reelection races this year include Reps. Charlie Dent, Mike Fitzpatrick, Mike Kelly, Barletta and Meehan. Santorum is a social and fiscal conservative, and backing him might not help their own reelection efforts.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), meanwhile, is facing a competitive primary from Evan Feinberg, a former staffer for Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). Both Paul and Coburn indicated to The Hill that they could endorse Feinberg.

Santorum has said that congressional endorsements have not been a top priority.

“I haven’t asked anybody. I didn’t really seek their endorsements, I didn’t really want their endorsements, I didn’t think they would help very much,” Santorum said in a recent interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” 

Until his come-from-behind second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses last week, though, Santorum was in the single digits in national polls. Endorsements of presidential candidates don’t usually matter much to voters, but they can help a campaign generate momentum and generate media attention.

Endorsements are helpful at the grassroots level because they help mobilize voters and turnout — especially if the person making the endorsement has a large political operation.

Privately, lawmakers in Pennsylvania have suggested that they would wait for Santorum to exit the race before tossing their support behind leading GOP contender Mitt Romney. Others have said they will absolutely not endorse in the primary.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) is the only lawmaker who has contributed to Santorum’s 2012 war chest. Gohmert has not endorsed in the primary but is likely to do so later this year, a source said.

Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) relationship with Santorum is a bit complicated. Santorum endorsed then-GOP Sen. Arlen Specter over Toomey in the 2004 Senate primary, which Specter narrowly won. Some on the right have not forgiven Santorum for backing Specter in that race. Specter subsequently bolted the GOP and helped pass President Obama’s healthcare reform bill in 2010.

In a recent interview with Pennsylvania-based newspaper The Morning Call, Toomey indicated that he would help elect Republicans to the Senate, but in the presidential race, he’s “going to let that run its course.”

One Keystone State lawmaker has publicly backed a candidate not named Santorum.

Centrist Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), whose seat is being targeted this year, officially endorsed Romney in November.

“At a time when our budget deficits have skyrocketed and unemployment remains dangerously high, we need a radically different approach in Washington. Mitt Romney has demonstrated that conservative leadership and solutions can fix the problems our country faces. I look forward to working with him to address these issues,” Gerlach stated at the time.

Most of the Republican establishment in the nation’s capital is behind Romney. Sixty-two lawmakers have backed his bid.