The Truth-O-Meter Says:
Romney

Says "Rick Santorum supported (Arlen) Specter over conservative candidates twice."

Mitt Romney on Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 in Feb. 23, 2012, in a campaign ad

Mitt Romney ad says Rick Santorum endorsed Arlen Specter twice

Mitt Romney’s campaign would like primary voters to remember that rival Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum once supported a "liberal, pro-choice Republican turned Democrat."

A February 2012 attack ad focuses on Santorum’s relationship with former Sen. Arlen Specter,  the fellow Pennsylvanian he served with for 16 years in Congress.

The ad, titled, "Arlen and Rick," says:
 

Meet Arlen Specter: Liberal, pro-choice Republican turned Democrat. The deciding vote on Obamacare. Rick Santorum supported Specter over conservative candidates — twice. (Santorum clip:) "I'm proud to endorse Arlen Specter." Santorum and Specter voted for liberal circuit judge Sonia Sotomayor. Santorum and Specter both sided with Big Labor, against right-to-work. If Rick Santorum couldn't say no to liberal Arlen Specter, can you really trust him to change Washington?


A description of the ad on the Romney campaign’s YouTube channel says, "In 1996 and 2004, Rick Santorum supported Arlen Specter over conservative candidates."

We decided we’d dig back 16 years to check: Did Santorum support Specter over conservative candidates twice?

We reached out to campaigns for Romney and Santorum, in addition to Specter, now adjunct faculty at University of Pennsylvania Law School. None responded by our deadline. But there was plenty written as history unfolded to help us judge this claim.

Santorum’s 1996 endorsement

The first flashback takes us to the mid '90s, when Sen. Arlen Specter, 65, hopped briefly into the Republican race for president.

Santorum, 37, was a freshly minted senator, elected in 1994 with a helping hand from Specter — who swallowed his opposition to the conservative, pro-life House member to ensure a Republican win over Democratic Sen. Harris Wofford.

"It wasn't like Arlen wanted Rick. He didn't. But when he won the primary, he rallied around him," said Terry Madonna, an expert in Pennsylvania politics with Franklin and Marshall College.

In 1995, as the junior senator from Pennsylvania, Santorum returned the favor, appearing on stage supporting his home-state colleague while Specter announced his candidacy for president.

(So, the "1996" endorsement was in 1995, but for Specter’s short-lived attempt to face Bill Clinton in the 1996 presidential race.)

Did Santorum support Specter "over conservative candidates"?

According to news coverage at the time, Specter said he was entering the race to challenge the party’s religious conservatives and speak in favor of abortion rights. He attacked conservative primary rivals during his speech — conservative commentator Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed, leaders of the Christian Coalition —  with Santorum on stage.

The New York Times said, "So pronounced was Mr. Specter's attack that he spoke this line twice: ‘Neither this nation nor this party can afford a Republican candidate so captive to the demands of the intolerant right that we end up re-electing a president of the incompetent left.’"

Santorum, for his part, didn’t play his supporting role flawlessly. The Times reporter noted that he "rolled his eyes more than once and limited his applause."

A few days later, Santorum was quoted by States News Service:

Santorum repeated his support of Sen. Arlen Specter's presidential candidacy, but it was hardly a ringing endorsement.


"The reason I endorse Sen. Specter is because I work with him everyday," Santorum said. He then added, "and I think we agree on most things."


Santorum’s 2004 endorsement

Santorum’s second endorsement of Specter was more recent — and has a more infamous — history.

A Washington Post blog recently called it "Rick Santorum’s greatest sin."

Conservative Pat Toomey challenged Specter in the GOP primary. Republican leadership, fearing Toomey would struggle in a general election, lined up behind centrist Specter, starting with President George W. Bush.

Santorum, who by 2004 ranked No. 3 in the Senate as the Republican Conference chairman — a job focused on keeping Republican seats — toed the line. With conservative backing, Specter just survived, keeping his Senate seat one more term.

However, Santorum opposed Specter in other ways, such as in Senate votes over social issues. In 2004, Specter’s voting record got just a 43 percent approval rating from the American Conservative Union, the Bulletin News’ Frontrunner report noted. In 2010, Santorum’s lifetime ACU rating was 88 percent, according to National Review.

"On social stuff, he and Arlen were on very different planets," said Madonna, the Pennsylvania politics expert.

In fact, most coverage of Santorum’s endorsement of Specter noted how their politics differed.

For example, a 2004 Campaign & Elections article headlined, "The Power of Endorsements," noted: "Specter was helped by the endorsement of Santorum, his Senate colleague who is considerably more conservative. The men differed over abortion and stem cell research, among other issues. Santorum played down the differences in backing the incumbent and emphasized their agreement on judicial nominations and other issues. In a television commercial Santorum said, ‘I've heard people say they think Arlen Specter is a liberal. Well, let me tell you. . . Arlen is with us on the votes that matter.’"

During the six-year term won with help from Bush and Santorum, Specter switched his party allegiance and began to caucus with Democrats. Although the ad describes Specter as a  "liberal, pro-choice Republican turned Democrat," Santorum's endorsements of Specter all occurred when Specter was a Republican.

In 2010, Specter ran as a Democrat, and lost in the primary.

Our ruling

Romney’s ad says Santorum "supported Specter over conservative candidates twice." It’s true that Santorum endorsed his Pennsylvania colleague in 1995 and 2004 over more conservative primary challengers. In the first case, he was repaying Specter’s support for his own Senate candidacy. In the second, he was helping Republicans keep their Senate majority by supporting the candidate the party felt would be more competitive in a general election. The ad’s claim is accurate. We rate it True.

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About this statement:

Published: Wednesday, February 29th, 2012 at 1:08 p.m.

Subjects: Message Machine 2012

Sources:

Mitt Romney, "Arlen and Rick," Feb. 23, 2012 via YouTube

Interview with Terry Madonna,  professor of public affairs, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs,  Franklin and Marshall College, Feb. 24, 2012

University of Pennsylvania Law School, "Arlen Specter," accessed Feb. 24, 2012

Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette, "Pa.'s new senator is no backbencher," Jan. 4, 1995, via Nexis

States News Service, "Rick Santorum sworn in as Pennsylvania’s newest senator," Jan. 4, 1995, via Nexis

New York Times, "Joining Race, Specter Attacks the Right," March 31, 1995

Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette, "Specter's mountain; An uphill but worthy climb for the GOP nomination," April 2, 1995, via Nexis

States News Service, "Santorum looks back on first 100 days of Senate," April 7, 1995, via Nexis

Frontrunner, "PA: Specter, Toomey Make Last Pitch To Potential Primary Voters," April 26, 2004

National Catholic Reporter, "Endorsement exposes faulty logic; pro-life senator Rick Santorum endorses pro-choice stalwart Arlen Specter; Editorial," May 14, 2004, via Nexis

American Spectator, "RINO Survival Guide: On the Trail with Arlen Specter," June 2004

Campaigns & Elections, "The Power of Endorsements," July 2004, via Nexis

Congressional Quarterly Today, "Grudges Could Block Specter's Bid to Chair Judiciary," Nov. 5, 2004, via Nexis

NPR, "Specter the Incumbent, But Not the Shoo-In," May 5, 2010, via Nexis

Congressional Quarterly Weekly, "Election 2010: Senate -- Big GOP Comeback, But a Majority?" June 26, 2010, via Nexis

Pittsburgh Tribune Review, "Santorum no GOP savior," July 18, 2010

National Review, "Rational Optimist - It's hard to keep Pat Toomey down," Sept. 20, 2010, via Nexis

ABC News, "Arlen Specter: Leave Me Out of It," Feb. 23, 2012

Washington Post's The Fix, "Rick Santorum’s greatest sin: Endorsing Arlen Specter," Feb. 24, 2012

ABC News' The Note, "Romney Campaign Doubles Down On Rick Santorum-Arlen Specter Connection," Feb. 24, 2012

POLITICO, "Arlen Specter: Rick Santorum ‘so far to the right,'" Feb. 24, 2012

Written by: Becky Bowers
Researched by: Becky Bowers
Edited by: Martha M. Hamilton

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