Santorum: GOP in Washington should stop 'showing their hand' in races

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R) has a message for the Republican campaign committees – stop meddling in primaries.

“I don’t think it’s helpful in this environment for the campaign committees to be showing their hand on these races,” Santorum told The Hill after a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). “I think they’re much better off to allow the process to work and to encourage people to enter the process.”

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From New Hampshire to California and Florida, the GOP House and Senate campaign committees have tried to play kingmaker in Republican primaries. Most recently in Illinois, the National Republican Senatorial Committee backed Rep. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkWhy Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Bottom Line MORE (R-Ill.) over conservative Patrick Hughes. The five-term congressman won by nearly 40 points.

“There was a race and the conservatives had their chance and they didn’t do well,” he said. “Had the Senatorial committee stayed out of the race, then they could say, ‘Look, you had your chance. Let’s all come together.’ If they’re in the race, then they can say, ‘Well, the deck was stacked against us.’ And that’s just not helpful. We need nice clean wins in primaries.”

Santorum served two terms in the Senate before losing to now Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyThe US needs to lead again on disability rights No one wins with pro-abortion litmus test New ObamaCare enrollment period faces Trump headwinds MORE (D-Pa.) in 2006. He is now making the rounds in early presidential primary states, testing the waters for a 2012 White House run.

“Primaries are a good thing,” he said, dismissing the suggestion the process could leave the GOP with a “battered candidate.”

“The more important thing is [avoiding] a divided party,” he said. “There’s a higher risk of a divided party if Washington tries to put their thumb on the scale.”

Santorum wasn’t the only Republican at CPAC concerned about Washington’s involvement in primaries.


“If national money’s being invested during the primary process for one candidate, then you’ll have less money available for the general election,” said Ovide Lamontagne, who’s running for the GOP Senate nod in New Hampshire against the NRSC-backed Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE. “The NRSC and [National Republican Congressional Committee] are supposed to help candidates win the general election, not help them win the primary.”

In his Saturday morning speech, Santorum touted Israel’s approach to terrorism and called on the Obama administration to take aggressive measures against Iran. During a question-and-answer session with the audience, he encouraged the CPAC attendees to flex their muscles in upcoming GOP primaries.

“The opportunity is now for conservatism,” he said. “Now is your opportunity, right now, during these primaries to rally behind conservative candidates.”

Santorum had a tough speaking slot Saturday. Many of the conferees were still waiting in line for coffee when he took the stage. The night before, a George W. Bush impersonator and former Congressman J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) entertained the crowd.