Pennsylvania Roots Were Source of Controversy for Santorum’s 2006 Senate Race

As this presidential election season ramps up, here comes another candidate with another housing issue. During the last presidential election in 2008, Arizona Senator John McCain lost track of how many homes he owned. His Democratic foe, Barack Obama, had questions to answer about his Chicago home and his ties to now-indicted political fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko.

Now, the new GOP front-runner, Rick Santorum, has his own real estate pickle.

The last time Rick Santorum was in the middle of a high-stakes campaign with national implications, he was the incumbent U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania and the No. 3-ranking Republican. But in 2006, when Santorum’s seat was successfully targeted by Democrats, the outspoken conservative found himself trying to answer this question:

Where, exactly, does Santorum call home?

Santorum became mired in a residence controversy after stating that he spent only “maybe a month a year” at his Pennsylvania home on Stephens Lane, which is part of the Penn Hills real estate market just outside of Pittsburgh.

When he was the Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum and his family lived in this Leesburg, VA home. SOURCE: David Pitkin

In reality, Santorum and his family were living in Leesburg, VA, prompting serious questions about why the school district in Penn Hills was paying for his children’s online school tuition for instruction between 2001 and 2004.

Critics complained that Pennsylvania taxpayers were paying 80 percent of the tuition for five of Santorum’s seven children — who lived in Virginia — to attend an online “cyber school.”  The flap forced Santorum to pull his kids from the cyber-school program, but the issue helped doom him against Democrat challenger Bob Casey, who beat Santorum by 18 points. In 2006, the Pennsylvania state Department of Education agreed to pay $55,000 to settle the dispute.

As Santorum surges in polling, the April 24 primary in Pennsylvania will be the first time in six years that the former senator will get tested in what he calls his home state — even though his filing papers with the Pennsylvania Department of State lists his home municipality as Fairfax County, VA. And that very issue of whether or not Santorum is a Pennsylvania resident haunted him not only during his re-election loss in ’06, but again during his bid to become the GOP nominee.

Santorum's Penn Hills home. Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

On the campaign trail in Iowa last August, where election officials finally awarded Santorum a caucus win over Mitt Romney, Santorum emphasized his Pennsylvania roots by telling a library gathering that he and his wife, Karen, have some fruit trees back home, where they harvested about 600 early peaches and peeled them to make into jam.

He toted about 40 jars of peach preserves to Iowa, where he dubbed them: “Pennsylvania Presidential Peach Preserves.”

The problem for Santorum in representing himself as a Pennsylvanian despite living in Virginia is that Santorum used that same issue against his opponent in his first bid for the 18th District U.S. Congressional seat. In 1990, Santorum attacked incumbent Democrat Doug Walgren for living in McLean, VA, yet Santorum did the same thing when he later served in the Senate.

Santorum bought this Great Falls, VA home for $2 million in 2007.

Meanwhile, since his 2006 re-election defeat, Santorum has since moved into another home in Virginia. In 2007, he spent $2 million to buy a 5,000-square foot home in Great Falls, VA (above).

While Santorum’s financial rise was powered by consulting contracts with fuel producer Consol Energy Inc., faith advocacy group Clapham Group and American Continental Group, a Washington consultancy, as well as media engagements with the Philadelphia Inquirer and Fox News, he has made no secret of his political ambition.

The question is what will Republican voters in Pennsylvania have to say about his “homecoming” on April 24, where another candidate with Pennsylvania ties — Newt Gingrich, who was born in Harrisburg — has fallen way back in polling since his victory in the South Carolina primary.

> See homes of GOP candidates