George Will

PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- A senator seeking to model his career on that of some earlier Senate titan might choose one of the 19th century's ``great triumvirate'' -- Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John Calhoun. Twentieth-century luminaries would include Mr. Republican, Robert Taft, or the pride of New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. But Alfonse D'Amato?

As New York's other senator from 1981 to 1999, D'Amato was the un-Moynihan, reveling in the title of Senator Pothole, a tribute, of sorts, to his unapologetic parochialism. So what is Rick Santorum, the third-ranking member of the Republican's Senate leadership and one of the nation's most prominent social conservatives, doing telling The New York Times that he wants to be like D'Amato, eschewing ``frilly stuff'' and practicing ``meat and potatoes'' politics?

He says, laughing, that he is trying to reassure constituents that he has not gone ``national'' by adopting un-Pennsylvania preoccupations. His campaign brochure ``50 Things You May Not Know About Rick Santorum,'' which includes such nuggets as: Santorum has been ``working closely with Bono'' to eliminate AIDS and world poverty, and legislating to regulate ``price gouging and unfair pricing by the big oil companies,'' and increasing the minimum wage, cracking down on ``puppy mills,'' battling Lyme disease -- and he sued Don Rumsfeld to stop the closure of a military facility in Pennsylvania.

Santorum, who is only 48 and looks 38 and has the ebullience of an 18-year- old, is seeking a third term. In 1994, he defeated the incumbent, Harris Wofford, the apple of many liberals' eyes, 49-47. In 2000, he was re-elected with 52 percent. His seat is one of the six most vulnerable Republican seats that Democrats must win to gain control of the Senate, and right now he is behind his opponent, Bob Casey Jr., the son of a popular former governor. Judging from recent polls, Santorum's deficit is between six to 18 points. Split the difference and he is 12 behind.

Twelve years ago, when he was a two-term congressman seeking a Senate seat and this columnist asked him how he would win, his pithy answer was: ``Guns.'' Pennsylvania's swarms of deer-slayers, who in hunting season must make the state sound like the third afternoon at Gettysburg, were feeling put-upon by President Clinton's crime bill. But Casey, too, supports gun owners' rights -- and, like Santorum, opposes abortion.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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