Specter continues to haunt Santorum

Rick Santorum, basing his Republican presidential campaign on the idea he is the purest conservative in the race, can’t seem to escape reminders of past entanglements with former Senate colleague (and moderate) Arlen Specter.

On Sunday, Santorum said that his support for Specter’s brief 1996 presidential campaign was a mistake that he wishes he could take back.

“I was his colleague in the United States Senate. He asked me to stand with him,” Santorum told host Jonathan Karl on ABC’s This Week. “That certainly wasn’t one of my prouder moments I look back on. But look, you know, you work together as a team for the state of Pennsylvania,” Santorum said. “I certainly knew that Arlen Specter was going nowhere. I certainly disagreed with a lot of things that he said.”

Santorum, a noted leader in the movement to restrict abortion access, was standing on the dais when Specter, then a moderate Republican who was pro-choice, announced his presidential bid in 1995.

 “I want to take abortion out of politics … and leave moral issues such as abortion to the conscience of the individual,” Specter said in that speech. “That is a matter to be decided by women, not by big government.”

Santorum said he owed Specter because his senior colleague had supported him in his successful 1994 Senate election. Supporting Specter, who later became a Democrat before losing his 2010 reelection race, “was something I look back on and wish I hadn’t done,” Santorum said Sunday.

In 2004, Santorum endorsed – and aggressively campaigned for – Specter in the Pennsylvania Republican primary, when the latter was challenged by the conservative former congressman Pat Toomey. Specter narrowly defeated Toomey then, and Santorum continues to take fire from the right for his role, undertaken at the behest of President George W. Bush.