Salena Zito

Santorum, who represented Pennsylvania in Congress from 1991 to 2007, began as a “progressive conservative” and ended as a social-conservative flamethrower. In between, he lost the voters who placed signs in their yards reading “Vote Gore-Santorum” in 2000.

A lot can happen in a month; Santorum may win Pennsylvania’s primary. Yet Jim Burn, the Democrats’ state chairman, predicts the race will be much closer.

“Once the national press and local press start reminding voters why they ran him out in 2006, you are going to see a tight race,” he said.

“The first thing we will do is remind voters of his insistence that taxpayers pay for his kids’ home-schooling when he no longer maintained a legal residence here.”

Burn refers to an old controversy over whether the then-U.S. senator’s family of seven lived in Penn Hills or in Leesburg, Va. It erupted when Penn Hills School District tried to recover more than $70,000 that, it contended, the state wrongly sent to a cyber charter school for his children’s education.

The Pennsylvania Education Department in 2006 agreed to pay the district $55,000 to settle the dispute.

Villanova’s Brown believes Santorum’s challenge with Pennsylvania Republicans breaks down this way: Tea Party conservatives won’t like his having had taxpayers foot the bill for his children’s schooling; conservatives will struggle with his support of Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in the GOP’s 2004 Senate primary; women in populous collar counties of Philadelphia and suburban Pittsburgh will hate his constant talk about contraceptives.

“If Santorum cannot win his own state,” she explains, “he is not a national candidate. But if Romney wins here, he has proven he is a battleground winner” – just as he did with battleground-state victories in Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada and New Hampshire.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.