Santorum’s departure stirs intrigue in GOP Senate race

Rick Santorum’s withdrawal from the presidential race may kill national interest in the Pennsylvania primary, but other races will be decided April 24 — including a five-way battle for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination.

Political analysts are looking at how Santorum’s departure could affect the contest. Some believe the candidate with the most to lose is Sam Rohrer, a former gubernatorial candidate and 18-year legislator who has name recognition but little money.

Rohrer is battling two wealthy candidates, coal company owner Tom Smith and Chester County businessman Steve Welch.

Franklin & Marshall College analyst Terry Madonna said Rohrer’s conservative voters are, in the main, Santorum voters.

Now that Santorum is out, Madonna said, “Fewer of them may vote, and that may work against Rohrer in the April 24 primary.”

But Madonna said a variety of factors will affect the race, so it’s hard to tell whom the most committed Republican voters will favor in a low-turnout race.

Rohrer could benefit from Smith and Welch attacking each other, says David Patti, president of the Pennsylvania Business Council.

And Rohrer may turn out his supporters with targeted emails and social media as he did when he won 30 percent of the vote in the 2010 governor’s race primary.

“He was able to segment his part of the market, his conservative constituency, and go after them repeatedly with messages that we don’t see on TV, we don’t hear on the radio, but are very effective,” Patti said.

Rohrer said in a telephone interview he’s confident he can still win.

“The motivated base that is more likely to turn out on April 24 would be the base that would embrace the things that I have stood for,” Rohrer said. “I think Rick’s departure perhaps does not encourage as great a turnout, but I don’t think that necessarily hurts us at all.”

Also in the race are Harrisburg attorney Marc Scaringi and Bucks County businessman David Christian. The winner will take on Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in the fall.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.