Arlen Specter: ‘I Never Made Any Deals with Santorum’

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One of the most damaging moments for Rick Santorum in Wednesday night’s debate came when Mitt Romney reminded Republicans that, in 2004, Santorum had endorsed Arlen Specter, then his fellow GOP Senator from Pennsylvania, in a high-profile primary fight against a more conservative challenger. Specter was fighting for his political life against Pat Toomey, and Santorum’s blessing (along with George W. Bush’s) helped to inoculate Specter against Toomey’s charge that he was a contemptible RINO.

As Romney cheerfully reminded the audience, Specter went on to win that race, but left the GOP in 2009 and ran for re-election as a Democrat in 2010. He was defeated that fall, but not before he cast a decisive vote for Obama’s health care plan. “If you had not supported him, if we had said, no to Arlen Specter, we would not have Obama Care,” Romney–deflecting an attack on his Massachusetts health care plan–told Santorum. “So don’t look at me. Take a look in the mirror.” Santorum defended his endorsement primarily on the grounds that Specter had promised him he would use his power as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman to support George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.

(MOREWhat You Missed While Not Watching the Arizona GOP Debate)

In an interview today, Specter–wry and upbeat despite losing his seat in 2010 (he’s even a stand-up comic now)–chuckled at his debate cameo. “I really think there are more important things to talk about than Arlen Specter,” he said. And he criticized both the squabbling Republicans. But he also challenged Santorum’s version of events. On his vote for Obama’s health care reform bill, Specter offered no apology. “If Romney wants to make me responsible for ObamaCare, I’ve said I would be proud to be responsible for it,” he said. And on Santorum’s contention that he’d promised to support Bush nominees, Specter said he’d never made such an assurance: “I never made any deals with Santorum about supporting — any blanket commitment to support Bush judges. I said that I would not apply a litmus test on pro choice, pro-life.” (Social conservatives never fully trusted Specter because of his own pro-choice position, though he did support many pro-life judges.)

Specter spoke positively of Santorum overall, saying that the two worked well together on local issues. He did note that Santorum’s conservative positions, while “very sincere,” are “reflected in [his] 18-point loss in Pennsylvania” in 2006. Specter also contended that  Santorum’s 2004 endorsement wasn’t necessarily the conservative heresy Romney makes it out to be.  “He supported me in 2004, but so did Bush. So did a lot of people. And when the crunch time came it was Bush’s commercial I used in the clutch–not Santorum’s.” That’s an interesting nuance to the tale. Just bon’t hold your breath waiting for Romney to clarify the point.

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