Rick Santorum, who has emerged recently as an enduring conservative alternative to frontrunner Mitt Romney, is starting to feel the heat for his record. To start with, an op ed in the Miami Herald takes Santorum to task for multiple violations of Tea Party orthodoxy on fiscal issues:
Supporters of the tea party movement, the grass-roots conservatives who've been relentless in demanding tough, lean budgets, are rallying behind Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum - but Santorum's record suggests he's hardly one of them. [...]
Yet while Santorum was a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2007, he was hardly the kind of die-hard fiscal conservative whom movement followers crave.
Among other things, the article accuses Santorum of getting close to $1 billion in earmarks, while voting for similarly wasteful projects like the infamous Bridge to Nowhere. It also points out his vote for the Prescription Drug Benefit as an example of his willingness to spend, and shares the reservations of leaders from several of the major fiscally conservative organizations, such as the National Taxpayers' Union and the Club for Growth.
Santorum's record on earmarks and spending, according to these sources, isn't liberal enough to raise too many alarm bells, but is a long way from the sort of "no new spending" principled conservatism of a Jim DeMint or a Rand Paul. The article also claims that political expediency has been a deciding factor in more than a few cases where Santorum's voting record is concerned, though he has a consistent record in favor of tax cuts.
Whatever nuances may exist in Santorum's record, though, they're completely ignored in the first ad targeting him by the Romney-affiliated SuperPAC, Restore Our Future, which hits Santorum hard (though not exclusively) on fiscal issues:
Yet the Weekly Standard has some questions about the Romney campaign's sincerity in using this line of attack. Writes reporter Michael Warren:
On a conference call Tuesday afternoon, former Missouri senator and Romney surrogate Jim Talent criticized Santorum’s support for expanding government spending, including his vote for the Medicare Part D in 2003—a program for which Talent himself voted.[...]
Talent continued, pointing to a few votes that show Santorum’s “liberal” spending record. “I want to note that Senator Santorum voted for No Child Left Behind, which was a big expansion of federal power over local education,” he said. “He voted for Medicare Part D, a big expansion of a federal entitlement.”
Meanwhile, more libertarian sources see Santorum's less-than-pristine record on spending as indicative of a wider statist bent on the part of the former Pennsylvania Senator. They point to sources such as a press conference where Santorum said, "I am not a libertarian, and I fight very strongly against libertarian influence within the Republican party and the conservative movement." For those not swayed by appeals to ideological loyalty, these critics also point to an ad from Santorum's 2006 Senate campaign where he touts calling for a raise in the minimum wage and pushing for more Amtrak funding as examples of his "caring about the families of Pennsylvania."
Does Santorum's oft-touted blue collar appeal make him a chance worth taking, or are his critics hitting him over a legitimate ideological weakness for spending? Time will tell.