Media firm buys sites for Santorum's 2008 run

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has “no intention” to run for president in 2008, but a media communications firm that represents him has registered a slew of relevant domain names in case the senator changes his mind.

New Media Communications, an Ohio-based Internet strategy company that runs Santorum’s 2006 reelection website, has bought domain names such as ricksantorum2008.com, ricksantorum2008.net and santorum2008.org.

Those purchases could play a role in Santorum’s tough reelection race. One of the questions that is expected to surface throughout the 2006 campaign is whether Santorum would serve a full six-year Senate term if he is elected to a third term.

Santorum’s main competitor for the Senate seat, state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., immediately pounced yesterday when told of the domain names.

Casey spokesman Marc Farinella said, “This is just more evidence that serving the people of Pennsylvania is not Rick Santorum’s top priority. I think it’s safe to say that Pennsylvania would be better served having a senator focused on doing a good job for Pennsylvania than by a senator focused on becoming president. In any case, after he is defeated in 2006, Mr. Santorum will have plenty of time on his hands to pursue his presidential ambitions.”

Mike Connell, the president and CEO of New Media Communications, is a major player in the Republican Party. He provided Internet strategy to the Bush-Cheney campaign, designing the award-winning www.georgewbush.com website in 2000 as well as the site and online tools of the 2004 campaign.

Connell has represented Sens. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) and more than 30 other members of Congress. Some of his industry clients include the National Rifle Association, the National Federation of Independent Business and the American Tort Reform Association.

Asked in a 2004 Campaigns & Elections interview where he’d like to be in 10 years, Connell said, “I’d like to be working in a senior position in the campaign to elect Rick Santorum president of the United States.”

Connell said that part of his firm’s services includes the registering of domain names, adding that he advises all his clients to take an aggressive position on locking up domain names.

“It’s part of the business,” Connell said.

Some individuals buy political domain names for $10 and then demand high ransoms for them.

Robert Traynham, communications director for Santorum, said, “We were aware” that those domain names were registered. He added that the senator remains focused on his 2006 reelection campaign.

Thomas Baldino, a professor of political science at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, said it is legitimate for Casey to highlight a possible Santorum bid for the White House. He added that the domain names raise more questions about Santorum’s launching a presidential run but was doubtful on whether it would be a top issue in the 2006 race.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who is widely expected to launch a presidential bid in 2008, faces a reelection race for her Senate seat next year. But unlike Santorum, there is no viable candidate to challenge her.

A Quinnipiac University survey released last week found that Santorum trails Casey, 48-35 percent. But Santorum has a massive edge in cash on hand, having $2.9 million in the bank.

Asked earlier this year on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether he would run for president in 2008, Santorum said, “I have no intention of doing that … One of the things I learned … you never say never in politics.”

When pressed if he would serve a full six-year term, Santorum responded, “I never do those kind of things. My sense is that the people of Pennsylvania are — I’m running for reelection, and that’s all I’m going to say.”