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Still Trailing in Polls, Santorum Hammers on Illegal Immigration

BY Admin  August 1, 2006 at 1:30 PM EDT

Image from Santorum Web ad

The two-term senator’s campaign Web site outlines his general policy: “Rick believes that the current Senate proposal, which offers a broad amnesty program, increased financial burdens on honest tax-paying American citizens, and incentives for illegal immigrants to raid the Social Security system and lie about their work history, should be rejected.”

Santorum further emphasizes the importance of the issue in an advertising spot about Casey’s support for the compromise Senate immigration bill. In the ad, Santorum discusses his own immigrant roots, but adds, “Unfortunately today, some enter our country with more sinister intentions. That’s why I fought so hard to add thousands of new guards, to beef up our borders and for critical high-tech surveillance.”

An ad on Santorum’s site puts it more bluntly, saying, “Bobby Casey supports a bill that would give amnesty to millions who have entered our country illegally. Casey not only supports special tax breaks for illegal aliens but in some cases giving them higher wages than American workers doing the same job.”

For the Democrat’s part, Casey, who was in the midst of his first campaign swing through the southwestern part of the state when the Santorum ad hit the airwaves in early July, dismissed the ads, criticizing Santorum and the Republicans for fostering divisions among Pennsylvanian voters.

“I think it’s pretty sad that a guy who’s been in the Senate for 12 years, his first ad … out of the blocks is a one-issue ad on an issue [immigration] that’s he done nothing about,” Casey told reporters, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “They have tried to use issues that demonize and divide people, that appeal to emotion and fear, and sometimes worse than that, in order to try to make up ground. … They did it with gay marriage, they tried to do it with the flag amendment. I’m sure there will be others as well. I think a lot of Americans are tired of it.”

Santorum aides said the advertising campaign amounted to “a no-brainer”, according to CNN’s Dana Bash.

“He’s appealing to his conservative base plus it sets him apart from both an unpopular president and his Democratic opponent,” she reported.

Analysts agreed with the goal of focusing on illegal immigration in a state where only 1.4 percent of the population is Latino could rally conservative support and cost Santorum little.

“What Santorum is trying to do is find an issue to make sure that his conservative base comes out,” said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, told The Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

“The gun issue and abortion are essentially mooted [since Casey agrees with Santorum], so he needs something else to stir up his base because Iraq just isn’t going to work the way it did two years ago.”

The heated rhetoric has already started to draw some fire from observers.

“GOP Sen. Rick Santorum has made it an issue with Democrat Bob Casey Jr. … The politicians have fabricated a bogeyman to blame all our problems on,” The Allentown Morning Call editorialized on Sunday. “The danger is that real people, citizens most of them, will suffer as a result. It has happened before.”

Even his fellow Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who as Judiciary Committee Chairman drafted much of the bill Santorum now lambastes, has balked at Santorum’s criticisms.

“Senator Santorum is entitled to his views,” Specter told The Philadelphia Inquirer in early July. “‘Amnesty’ is a buzz word that is used in derogation. … I think we’re moving past that.”

A recent survey of Pennsylvanians seems to affirm Specter’s point that some 83 percent say they oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the country.

The effectiveness of the immigration issue has yet to develop in most political polls, but analysts predict conservative voters may respond to Santorum’s call for tougher action against illegal immigrants and with few Latino voters, pollsters say he may not pay a heavy price for it at the polls.