Friday, October 13, 2006

Jab, Punch, Jab, Punch


Towards the end of the Phillies season, as the team was in the midst of its (as always) losing effort to make the playoffs, manager Charlie Manuel was asked on a radio interview about Pat Burrell, the Phils perpetually slumping slugger.
I feel bad for Pat, Charlie replied, he's flustrated.
Thus, with his marvelous malaprop, did Manuel coin a new and wonderful word. A conflation of flustered and frustrated, flustration perfectly decribes those moments when things are going bad and you don't know what to do about it.
In the race for the U.S. Senate, Rick Santorum is flustrated.
The incumbent has spent $10 million or more to earn the love and respect of Pennsylvania voters and has fallen short -- way short. If the election were held today, Santorum would lose, perhaps by double-digits. Even with three-plus weeks until Election Day, it is unlikely he can catch up, his own problems compounded by the anti-Bush drag that threatens all Republicans. Political professionals (and professional bettors) have started to look at Pennsylvania and put a check mark next to the name of Bob Casey Jr.
So, is it any surprise that Santorum came out swinging at last night's televised debate on KDKA? To describe it, reporters covering the debate reached into their huge kit bags of sports cliches and pulled out the ones under the heading "BOXING." Here's a sample of the coverage: on KDKA-TV, which hosted the debate, in the Inquirer, in the Post-Gazette, (which also includes audio links) and in the Patriot News, whose story carried the headline: The gloves come off.

With Santorum, as always, what you see is you get: cold political calculation -- an aggressive debate strategy designed to rough-up Casey -- mixed with red-hot emotion. As he said at the end of the debate: "You can see from this debate -- I'm a passionate guy. I'm tough. I'm a fighter. But you know what? I'm an Italian kid from a steel town. What do you expect from me? ... I wasn't born into a family that had a great name."

Of course, Santorum's central problem is the feeling among voters that while he's happy to fight for you, he's just as happy to fight you. An example is the YouTube moment the senator had last month in Camp Hill, Pa. where a voter, who questioned the senator's residency, set Santorum off. Even when she tried to back off, he chased her down to verbally smack her a few more times. Have a nice day!
Santorum's first task in this campaign was to shed his image, apparently fixed in the minds of Democratic and swing voters, that he is an arrogant (explicit language alert) asshole, with a touch of fanaticism. My Merriam-Webster's defines fanaticism as an exhibition of "excessive enthusiasm, unreasoning zeal, or wild and extravagant notions on some subject." Sounds about right.
This is a tough image to shake and the poll numbers indicate Santorum hasn't succeeded, despite a series of ads designed to portray him as a nice guy. Santorum does burn hot. It surely flustrates him that what he sees as an asset -- his passion -- has become such a liability. In recent ads -- and in last night's debate -- he's shed the happy-face Mr. Nice Guy tee-shirt and gone back to being The Fighter.

But fight against whom? So far, he's been campaigning against a ghost. The Casey strategy has been to keep their guy under wraps and keep the focus on Santorum, under the sound theory that the incumbent's worst enemy is the guy who stares back at him when he looks into the mirror of his (Washington? Penn Hills?) home. Through the summer and into the fall, Santorum's been dancing around the ring, his gloves on, punching and jabbing at thin air. Last night, Casey showed up in the flesh, knowing Santorum would be coming at him, so he answered in kind. Santorum's better at it, but those Casey blows about cyberschooling hit the incumbent where it hurt the most with Pittsburgh voters.

The two meet again next week in debates in Philadelphia, so get your scoring cards ready. At least it will be interesting. But, at this late stage of the campaign, with Santorum's numbers stuck on loser, will it make a difference?

Like Charlie Manuel said, it's flustrating.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll tell you what is frustrating....being a Pennsylvania voter and being treated like an idiot by Bob Casey and the Democrats. How anyone can lok at Casey last night and have the nerve to say Rick Santorum is arrogant is beyond me. Casey is the classic guy who was born on third base and thinks he has hit a triple. He drips with arrogance, in addition to not knowing what the hell he is talking about on a single issue that is actually important to me as a voter. It's a sad day for our Commonwealth when this is the best we can do for a United States Senator. Oh well, thank God we still have Arlen Specter around to actually work for us, because Bob Casey sure as hell won't.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

You know what this reminded me of? Remember the presidential debate they did on Saturday Night Live in 1988 when Dukakis (Jon Lovitz) said to the camera, flustrated, "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy.".

It's got to be frustrating as hell to spend $7M+ on ads, virtually uncontested across the summer, and not be able to move your numbers at all.

Pennsylvanians have made up their minds, and there's nothing Santorum can do about it. Not that I'm shedding any tears.

--Political Pundit, First Class

12:26 PM  
Blogger AJ Lynch said...

Tom:
A fair person would say the liberal Inqurer has gleefully used up barrels of ink to demonize Santorum.
And I would add that Santorum, at times, has made it easy for you to do that (i.e that vegetable lady comes to mind as an example).
But your writing on this blog surprises me as it has shown me you are far more liberal than your columns indicate.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was born & raised in Philly, but spent 1980-98 in The Burgh.

When Santorum first started running for office, one of the political columnists in Pittsburgh put the perfect tag on Santorum. He called him a "twerp." Anyone growing up in either Philly or Pittsburgh knows what this worn means, and it is still dead-on accurate in describing our, hopefully, ex-junior Senator from PA.

Mark R. - now from Bucks Cty.

5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Casey may look arrogant but--take it from someone who has known him all his life--nothing could be further from the truth. If he were even a touch as arrogant as Santorum, his sisters would have beaten it out of him decades ago.

8:41 PM  
Anonymous johngilb said...

anon 12:15

I hope that Casey doesn't turn out to be an empty suit, but even if he does, in my book he is still a 1000% improvement over little Ricky. As a member of the leadership team of this lapdog Congress that has abdicated all oversight over the GWB administration, Santorum simply does not desrve re-election. I'm looking forward to Democratic committee chairs in either the House or the Senate conducting investigations into the no-bid Halliburton contracts for Iraq. BTW, this is not a partisan issue - didn't Harry Truman come into prominence during WW2 by conducting Senate investigations into defense contractor fraud? As I recollect, he was in the same party as FDR...

8:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liberal, smiberal! This is not the Lavern and Shirley show. I vote both ways. This is about our state (Pa.) and our country (USA). To me it looks like Rick can't hold it together and neither can Bush. We are hated in this world because of their policies with no oversight. One party should not hold all the power. Absolute power corrupts how?

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While Casey sure as hell doesn't have the charisma of Bill Clinton, (insert your Monica joke here if you must) & he is too right of center on some issues, I still think he's alot better than Rick Santroum...

And, as is often the case in elections, many in this election will be voting more AGAINST Santorum than they are FOR Casey, I know I am...

1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two issues for me have me preferring an empty suit over Rick Santorum continuing as PA's junior senator.

1) The Terri Schiavo case. Rick did not belong in the middle of that !

2) The Dover PA creationism case which was brought because of Santorum pushing for it.

If someone has strong views but are WRONG about those views then we have to retire him !

1:48 AM  
Anonymous Eric Jurgensen said...

I despise Santorum, but I looked at the YouTube video and to say that Santorum "chased her down" and "had a tantrum" is completely inaccurate. There's plenty of tar that can be used to paint Santorum. Let's not resort to Karl Rove tactics.

12:35 PM  

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