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Home State Blues: 2012 Contenders Have Tough Climb

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Ex-Sen. Rick Santorum is highly unlikely to win his home state of Pennsylvania should he capture the GOP presidential nod in 2012.

In the hunt for the White House, the GOP's leading presidential contenders know they would struggle to win the voters who know them best.

From Minnesota to Massachusetts, the governors and Members of Congress who make up the evolving Republican field acknowledge that a path to general election victory might not include their home states.

Even the GOP's rising stars who continue to be part of the presidential chatter, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, draw poor marks back home.

"I'm not a biblical scholar, but didn't Christ say a prophet is not beloved in his hometown?" asked Tony Sutton, chairman of the Republican Party in Minnesota, the launching pad for two Republican candidates this cycle. "But I don't think that makes any difference in a national election."

Indeed, Republican observers and those associated with the campaigns are quick to dismiss the significance of unpopularity back home. But Democrats have a different perspective and an aggressive message.

"Perhaps nothing says more about the records of the Republican field than the fact that many of them would struggle in their own states," said Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse. "The voters in these states know the records of these candidates and the majority are unlikely to support them."

Easy for him to say, given that President Barack Obama would seem a lock to win Illinois in 2012. As the Democrats battled for the nomination in 2008, neither Obama nor then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) was going to have a problem on the home turf.

This time around, the Republicans face challenges because so many hail from states with a Democratic voter registration advantage. Plus, some of the candidates have shifted away from the moderate positions that helped elect them in the first place.

"On the face of it, some people might say, 'Oh wow, you can't win your own state? You're a joke.' But not really, when you look at how complicated politically it is," said David Urban, a Republican consultant associated with Rick Santorum's campaign.

Santorum admits that a path to the presidency does not necessarily include Pennsylvania, where he served as a Senator for two terms. That's because Santorum knows there's little chance that Keystone State voters who handed him a 17-point drubbing in 2006 would support him again.

"Pennsylvania is a tough state for a Republican period. It is very purple and very fickle," Urban said. "I don't think it's an indictment on Rick for not being able to win Pennsylvania."

Pennsylvania last supported a Republican for president in 1988, but even with a Democratic registration advantage of more than a million, the GOP still considers it a swing state.

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