Pulse: Affairs: Is Santorum the Top Target?

Will Republican Senator Rick Santorum head the Democrats’ Most Wanted List in 2006? The first evidence that his defeat will be a national priority is that a campaign is emerging long before a candidate does. Likely challengers include outgoing state treasurer Barbara Hafer and failed Senate candidate Joe Hoeffel, but local Democratic operatives aren’t waiting to find out. Sources say former Hoeffel campaign manager Celia Fischer and D.C.-based fund-raiser Joe McLean are moving to establish a 527, the type of independent group that did much of the pro-Kerry organizing last fall. (Fischer and McLean wouldn’t comment.) The goal will be to marshal resources from those — particularly women’s and gay groups — itching to oust the man who may be the most vulnerable Republican incumbent in the country. Santorum’s likely ascendance to Senate whip will only further whet the appetite of the Democrats’ activist class, in much the same way Republicans eagerly gunned for Tom Daschle last year. “It’s like a notch on the belt to take out leadership,” consultant Ken Smukler says.