GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Rick Santorum is as unpopular in Pennsylvania today as he was six years ago when home-state voters kicked him out of the Senate in a rout.
That sour public perception may doom his fading chances of sticking around in the GOP presidential race, along with other hurdles that dot his path to a possible, and needed, victory in the April 24 primary.
He was unable to heal a rift with fiscal conservatives who had lost confidence in him or reassure party leaders that he could temper his hardline positions on social issues that repel the moderate and independent voters who are crucial to success in statewide elections in this diverse state.
Santorum also faces a nearly insurmountable hurdle to stop Mitt Romney, who emerged as the nominee-in-waiting after his sweep of contests this week in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
None of that seems to be deterring Santorum.
“People in Pennsylvania know me,” he said this week while campaigning near Pittsburgh. “We’ve got a strong base of support here, and we’re going to work very, very hard.”
That Pennsylvanians know Santorum may be part of the problem.
He spoke at the state’s largest annual gathering of conservatives several weeks ago, yet won a straw vote with less than half the vote. His support in the state also has slipped, according to at least two surveys.
Santorum is as unpopular now as he was at the time of his defeat.
A February poll by Muhlenberg College showed that nearly half the registered voters surveyed viewed him unfavorably. Just 39 percent saw him favorably.
A March 28 poll by Franklin & Marshall College showed Santorum with 30 percent support to Romney’s 28 percent among registered Republicans, a big drop from the 29-point advantage he enjoyed in February.