Santorum, once a Bush booster, now taking a cooler approach

Sen. Rick Santorum’s (R-Pa.) relationship with President Bush appears to have frayed.

For much of 2004 and 2005, Santorum was one of the president’s biggest boosters in the Keystone State, campaigning for him last year and spearheading his Social Security drive this year even as GOP aides were warning him to not to get involved.

No longer.

The senator publicly disagreed with the president’s handling of Social Security reform. Then he took a wait-and-see approach to Harriet Miers, Bush’s Supreme Court nominee.

Santorum, who is facing a tough reelection campaign in a state that has twice voted against Bush, dismisses talk that he’s running against the president.

“I think I have a pretty good reputation here of calling them like I see them,” Santorum said yesterday. He said he would welcome a presidential visit on the campaign trail.

Other senators backed Santorum. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) told The Hill that senators must represent the interests of their states, not campaign for or against the White House.

Senators, even those seeking reelection, do not think in terms of what the president does or does not want, he added, but act according to what their constituents are telling them.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) characterized relations between most Republican senators, including Santorum, and the White House as “pretty good.”

But Sessions suggested that senators’ support can wax and wane. “They like him better when his poll numbers are good, and they like him less when his poll numbers are bad,” he said.

Santorum’s more nuanced stance vis-