Of all the states to hold primaries on Tuesday, everyone agrees that by far the most important is Ohio. It is the largest state voting, and it is essential for Republicans to carry in November.
But the reason Ohio is especially important this year is that Rick Santorum is in a dead heat with Mitt Romney in the Ohio polls. The reason is presumably Santorum’s appeal to conservative blue-collar voters. Thus far, Santorum has performed better in the industrial Midwest than in the service economy Sunbelt. Romney is stronger among wealthier, more educated and suburban Republicans, Santorum among the more religious, less educated, less affluent and rural. In Michigan, Santorum carried voters making less $100,000 per year and those who did not graduate from college, while those who make more than $100,000 and college graduates provided Romney with his narrow margin of victory.
Why is this? It’s not because Santorum’s proposals on taxes and spending are less skewed towards the wealthy than Romney’s. If anything, they are even more so.
The conventional explanation offered by the media is biographical. Consider this dispatch from the Washington Examiner in Arizona last month: “ ‘I’m not a manager, I’m not a visionary; I’m a guy from a steel town,’” Santorum said at the Maricopa County GOP Lincoln Day lunch, drawing a parallel with the former Massachusetts business executive. Santorum’s rise in the polls has come as GOP primary voters warmed to his working-class background.” Reporters have uncritically bought the idea that Santorum comes from humble roots and that gives him a personal connection with voters of modest means. It has become so widely accepted that it is treated as objective fact. Even the Associated Press wrote in a news article Saturday that “[Santorum] began talking more about his working-class background,” in Michigan.
This is baloney. Santorum is from less of a working-class background than Bill Clinton, Joe Biden or Barack Obama. As a blog post on The Democratic Strategist noted, “Rick Santorum is an MBA, fancy lawyer, politician and slimy lobbyist. His parents were a clinical psychologist and administrative nurse. He is no more authentically ‘blue collar’ than he is Chinese.”
White lab coats don’t have blue collars. Santorum went to Penn State as an undergraduate and for law school and received an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh. Graduates of top-tier flagship state schools and multiple graduate programs are not working-class people.