ARCHIVE

PA-Sen: Santorum vs. Casey


This year, Pennsylvania Democrats nominated State Treasurer Bob Casey, Jr., namesake-son of the late governor, as their candidate against two-term Republican Sen. Rick Santorum. The day before the primary, Santorum opened his media campaign with a 60-second TV spot attacking Casey for “mud slinging” and challenging him to talk about the issues. Casey countered by calling the ads “negative and dishonest.” So began the campaign that will undoubtedly be the marquee race of the ’06 elections.

There are few office-holders the Democratic left hates with more visceral passion than Santorum (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 88%). “[T]he Clinton-hating, Democrat-baiting scourge of he left,” is how the Philadelphia Inquirer identified the 45-year-old Santorum in 2000. Scores of pundits have called him the Democrats’ top target among Republican senators up for election this year. Casey is state treasurer and son of beloved late Gov. Bob Casey. He’s a devout Roman Catholic and pro-life just like his father, but also just like Santorum. However, as voters are finding out, beyond the cultural issues, such as abortion and gun control, the younger Casey is a predictable Northeastern Democrat funded strongly by labor unions and other dispensers of left-of-center money.

All told, in supporting Casey, the national Democrats are, in effect, saying: “We don’t care if he bolts from the national party platform on social issues. Just give us someone who can whip Santorum.”

After four years in the House and 12 in the Senate, Santorum—while growing somewhat less conservative over the years and making his peace with some government programs—“still ranks among the more conservative Republicans in the Senate,” says The Almanac of American Politics. Most importantly, the 48-year-old Santorum has been a key force behind some of the most creative legislation on the right: the “tough-love” welfare reform measure that Bill Clinton finally signed into law, the ban on partial-birth abortions that President Bush signed and the free market-oriented streamlining of Social Security that politicians are still cautiously considering.

In 16 years of elective politics, Rick Santorum has had some tough races—including unseating incumbents to win his initial terms in the House and Senate—but he has never lost an election. This fall, he won’t spoil that record if conservatives rally to his side and return him to the Senate.