- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2012

HOUSTON — After a big win in Saturday’s Kansas caucuses, Rick Santorum is riding high almost everywhere but in his native Pennsylvania.

While Christian-right leaders such as James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Tom LeFever, Rebecca Hagelin and Richard Viguerie were holding a fundraiser in Texas for the former senator Friday, some in his hometown of Pittsburgh were expressing doubts about the candidate’s reliability as an advocate of small government and fiscal integrity.

“I guess you could say there’s a disconnect between Rick Santorum’s claim to be a small-government fiscal conservative and the Pittsburgh tunnel project he pushed for as a U.S. senator,” said Jack Brooks, a former top official in a powerful Pennsylvania trade union that backed Mr. Santorum’s failed Senate re-election bid in 2006.

Mr. Santorum, running a shoestring campaign to wrest the Republican nomination from front-runner Mitt Romney, has claimed to be “the true conservative” in the GOP race. Not surprisingly, his rivals on the national scene say he is anything but. A campaign ad by his rival, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, tags Mr. Santorum as a “fake fiscal conservative.”


Newt Gingrich, appearing on Fox News on Sunday, again questioned Mr. Santorum’s conservative bona fides.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rick Santorum listens to his wife, Karen, as he is introduced during the Cape County Republican Women's Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday in Cape Giradeau, Mo. He won the Kansas caucuses Saturday. (Associated Press)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rick Santorum listens to his wife, Karen, as ... more >

What’s gone largely unnoticed, though, is the deep skepticism about Mr. Santorum’s fiscal and social credentials on the right among those who know him well from his hometown of Pittsburgh.

A staunchly pro-life Catholic with backing from Protestant evangelical leaders, he represented Pennsylvania, first in the U.S. House and then in the Senate, before losing to Democrat Robert P. Casey Jr. in 2006.

Mr. Santorum’s emergence as the main challenger to Mr. Romney is based in large part on his appearance as one of the Republican Party’s most successful amalgamators of social and fiscal conservatism.

Yet from Gov. Tom Corbett to U.S. Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, state GOP Chairman Rob Gleason and on down the political food chain, no major GOP politician in the state has endorsed Mr. Santorum.

One complaint is that Mr. Santorum’s claim of being the only truly small-government conservative among the three top GOP nomination contenders is undermined by his support of big-government spending while in the Senate — especially when it comes to the mile-long Pittsburgh tunnel project that was part of a deal with Mr. Brooks and his union.

In exchange for helping push through federal support for the project, Mr. Santorum won the endorsement of the state’s building and construction trade unions — including Mr. Brooks‘ 14,000-member carpenters union.

Even Sen. Arlen Specter, then a Republican from Pennsylvania, turned against the project when its overruns climbed to $450 million and then hit $528 million.

“We had a deal with Santorum,” said Mr. Brooks, whose Greater Pennsylvania Regional Council of Carpenters, along with other major building and construction trade unions, endorsed Mr. Santorum after the senator went to bat in Washington for construction of the tunnel under the Allegheny River. The tunnel’s only stop is at the two taxpayer-funded sports stadiums built with Mr. Santorum’s support.

“Very seldom are you going to have a union endorse a Republican,” said Mr. Brooks. “But the project created 4,000 jobs” — even if they were temporary — for workers in the construction and building trades.

Critics, including Mr. Specter, say the tunnel’s gargantuan costs far exceed its projected benefits to western Pennsylvania.

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