Tags: Unusual | Senate | Race | Pennsylvania

Unusual Senate Race in Pennsylvania

Monday, 14 March 2005 12:00 AM

Sara Taylor, the new White House political director, tells a conservative audience that the president has no better friend than Rick Santorum and that he intends to do whatever is necessary to help Santorum win a third term.

What gives here? Why suddenly does Rick Santorum warrant this level of assistance?

A couple of reasons, one of which is his almost assured opponent, Bob Casey Jr. I know the fellow. He looks, sounds, even gestures, just like his father, the two-term governor of Pennsylvania. Unless the National Abortion Rights Action League can produce a candidate of substance, Casey will be the Democratic nominee to face Santorum.

Casey, who now is the statewide-elected treasurer of Pennsylvania, announced for the Senate a few days ago. Barbara Hafer, Republican turned Democrat, who served as state auditor, announced her candidacy the day after Casey announced his. NARAL sent two staffers to Pennsylvania to open Hafer headquarters. They hardly had arrived when Hafer announced that she was ending her candidacy, after just two days.

Why? Because Governor Edward Rendell, former National Democratic Party chairman, pleaded with her to do so. Why the desire to pave the way for Casey to be the nominee? Because he is pro-life. You may recall that his late father was denied a chance to speak at the 1992 Democratic National Convention because he, too, was pro-life. He was, and even in death is, a revered figure in Pennsylvania politics.

Santorum had an advantage in his two elections to the Senate and in winning his very Democratic House seat before that. He could get the pro-life cross-over vote of disgruntled Democrats. These are Democrats, around 5 to 7 percent of the electorate, who put the issue of life above their party and who will vote Republican, however reluctantly, when the choice is between a pro-life and a pro-abortion candidate. For 2006, Santorum will not have this advantage.

Governor Rendell, a former mayor of Philadelphia and the undisputed boss of Democrat politics in the Keystone State, noted that some years back, when the younger Casey ran for governor, he was defeated in the primary by Hafer, who in turn lost the general election. Rendell is wise to be concerned.

Several recent polls show Santorum clobbering Hafer and former Congressman Joseph Hoeffel, who lost to Senator Arlen Specter in the 2004 election. Even Specter benefited from the same advantage which Santorum has. Specter, upon occasion, casts a pro-life vote, such as on partial-birth abortion. Hoeffel, on the other hand, never, ever has voted pro-life. So some pro-lifers crossed over and voted, if perhaps reluctantly, for Specter.

Meanwhile, these same polls which show Santorum winning big against the pro-abortion candidates also show Santorum winning narrowly, or even losing, against Casey. Casey gives pro-life, largely Catholic, Democrats a candidate for whom they can vote without voting against their own party.

Of course, some of them may wonder why Senator Charles Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democrats' Senatorial Committee and strongly pro-abortion, is beating drums for Casey.

I mentioned that Santorum has a couple of problems. The other problem is Arlen Specter. In 2006, then-Congressman Pat Toomey (who had limited himself to three House terms) challenged Senator Specter in the GOP primary. Most pro-life/pro-family folks active in the political process in Pennsylvania understood that as a member of the Senate Republican leadership Santorum would be obliged to endorse Specter, perhaps even campaign for him. But Santorum went all out for Specter.

Pennsylvania friends tell me that Santorum campaigned almost harder for Specter than he did for himself in 1994 and 2000. That is saying something, because Santorum is a fierce campaigner. These observers told me at the time that Santorum's ads on Christian radio stations for Specter were the factor that caused Toomey to lose by 1 percent.

Some of these folks confronted Santorum about his vigorous campaigning for Specter and they did not care for his response. Some have said they will never support Santorum again. And now they have a pro-life Democrat they can support. Perhaps some, or even many, will.

Meanwhile, Casey is campaigning on economic issues. Pennsylvania lost a lot of good-paying skilled-labor jobs in the past few years, and Casey is blaming Republicans. Casey also is raising the issue of immigration - a powerful issue, which undercuts the Republican base. If Casey were to force Santorum to debate in Casey's framework, Casey would have a major advantage.

Santorum, who is one of the best campaigners Pennsylvania that Republicans have ever seen, will need to hold Casey accountable for the far left ideas of Casey's party. Already the Casey campaign is suspect; otherwise why would Senator Schumer, as pro-abortion and as left as they come, get so activated!

If Casey were to get to Washington, the Democratic leadership willingly would tolerate a pro-life vote here and there. After all, Harry Reid votes that way. But on major issues, even the confirmation of judges, the Democratic leadership has an iron grip on its senators. It would appear that 44 out of the 45 Democrats will filibuster Social Security reform if necessary. Casey, of course, would be expected to be right there with the rest.

The president between 2001 and 2004 visited Pennsylvania more times than any other state. He narrowly had lost Pennsylvania in 2000 but was determined to carry it in 2004. His administration poured money into Pennsylvania. He almost always was bringing good news when he could.

It didn't work. He came up short by about 100,000 votes. Sara Taylor said the president intends to do even more for Santorum than he did for himself. That is a tall order.

The first rule in politics is always to have your own base solid. Because of the Toomey race, Santorum has some problems with his own base. If he fails to acknowledge and correct this, it could cost him the election. Beyond that, Santorum can't let Casey get by with a moderate-to-conservative image.

Casey's party in Pennsylvania is more liberal than most. If Santorum could tie Casey to the positions of the Democrat Party, it likely would have two effects. Either Casey supports those liberal Democrat positions, providing an incentive for Republicans to re-elect Santorum, or Casey repudiates those positions, dampening support for him among his own party faithful.

Some observers, perhaps overlooking both the dilemma of choices facing Casey and President Bush's popularity, consider the race to be Casey's to lose, summed up by what a pro-lifer said to me last week: "Aren't we lucky in Pennsylvania this time. We have two such nice, energetic young men running for the Senate. We can't lose either way."

It may not be that simple.


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Sara Taylor, the new White House political director, tells a conservative audience that the president has no better friend than Rick Santorum and that he intends to do whatever is necessary to help Santorum win a third term. What gives here?Why suddenly does Rick...
Monday, 14 March 2005 12:00 AM
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