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Pennsylvania Dems Backing Casey to Oust Santorum

Friday, May 12, 2006

Pennsylvania Democrats head into Tuesday's primary with Bob Casey the strong favorite for U.S. Senate. Casey's anti-choice stance is being largely ignored by a party riveted on unseating GOP incumbent Rick Santorum.

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Bob Casey at a campaign press conference.

PITTSBURGH (WOMENSENEWS)--Democrat Bob Casey was in his element last Friday night at Finnigan's Wake, an Irish pub in downtown Pittsburgh where dozens of young professionals gathered to raise a glass to the frontrunner in the race for U.S. Senate. Momentum is building behind Casey as he hurtles toward the May 16 Democratic primary.

After working the room and playing up his Irish heritage, Casey delivered a standard stump speech to the packed happy-hour crowd, hitting on familiar Democratic themes such as the soaring federal deficit, the millions of Americans who lack health insurance, and the low approval ratings of Republicans who control the White House and Congress. Those include his Republican rival, Sen. Rick Santorum, who faces no opposition in Tuesday's primary.

Santorum's positions and comments on social mores have angered some constituents. He urged more women to stay home and raise children in "It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good," published in 2005. He drew fire from gay and lesbian rights advocates in 2003 by telling the Associated Press that he equated homosexuality with bestiality.

"I absolutely detest him," said Robin Randall, a marketing executive in Pittsburgh at last week's event who voted for Santorum in 2000 but will vote this time for Casey.

A lawyer by training, Casey served two terms as auditor general and, after losing a gubernatorial bid in 2002, went on to win election in 2004 to state treasurer. He has raised $4.5 million, dwarfing the amount raised by his opponents, according to reports filed in April to the Federal Election Commission. And he shares the name of his late father, a popular former governor who served two terms, from 1986 to 1994.


Poll Trims Casey's Margin

A May 4 poll by Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster showed Casey with 47 percent of the vote in a general election, 6 points more than Santorum. That margin has narrowed, however, from an earlier double-digit lead.

The poll showed Casey well ahead of his two primary opponents, Alan Sandals, an attorney from Philadelphia and Chuck Pennacchio, a professor from rural Bucks County. The poll showed Casey with 63 percent support of Democrats, while Sandals and Pennacchio had 4 and 3 percent, respectively.

"I'm going to work night and day to make sure that in 2006 we not only have a new U.S. senator but we're moving this country in a new direction," Casey told his supporters in the bar.

What he left unsaid was his hereditary and name-brand opposition to abortion rights.

Casey holds views similar to those of his father, the late Gov. Robert P. Casey, the man who took on abortion rights advocates in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey suit that reaffirmed access to abortion as a basic right but allowed states to implement restrictions that don't pose an "undue burden" to women.

Casey opposes abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, and believes the ruling that legalized abortion should be overturned. He has also voiced support for the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote in a 1985 letter that abortion is not protected by the Constitution.


Pro-Choice Candidates Discouraged

Powerful Democrats have lined up to support Casey, ignoring his anti-choice positions. Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell and Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, head of the political and fundraising arm of the Senate Democratic caucus last year discouraged other potential challengers from running against Casey to avoid a contentious primary contest.

In addition, all nine female Democrats in the Senate signed a recent letter in favor of Casey's bid to oust Santorum, saying he is "critical to our efforts of regaining the majority of the U.S. Senate."

Others decided not to take him on. Barbara Hafer, a pro-choice former state treasurer, bowed out of the race in early 2005. Kate Michelman, former head of Washington, D.C.-based NARAL Pro-Choice America, the leading abortion rights advocacy group in the country, opted against making an independent bid, saying in March that Casey had the best chance of defeating Santorum.

The two who were not dissuaded from entering the Democratic primary--Sandals and Pennacchio--have expressed strong support for abortion rights.

The National Organization for Women in Washington, D.C., and the Feminist Majority Foundation in Arlington, Va., both recently endorsed Sandals and pledged to send money and support to his campaign.

"Feminist voters have the opportunity to send extremist Republican incumbent Senator Rick Santorum packing," NOW President Kim Gandy said in a release. "But we must not do so by trading away our rights."


Ousting Vulnerable Santorum

Nonetheless, several pro-choice voters interviewed at the bar last week said they were backing Casey because he was the most likely to unseat Santorum, a two-term religious conservative who also strongly opposes abortion and who may be the most vulnerable Republican incumbent in a chamber where Republicans hold a solid 55-seat majority.

Not only will ousting Santorum weaken the GOP's grip on Congress, it will remove a leader who serves as chair of the Senate Republican Conference--the Senate GOP's communications operation--and one of its most polarizing figures.

"Everybody just wants to get Rick Santorum," said Trish Roden, 39, a clinical lab scientist from Pittsburgh who supports abortion rights. Casey's opposition on abortion rights--along with moderate stances on issues like gun control and stem cell research--don't thrill Roden, but she and other pro-choice voters still say the political money is on him to win in the general election.

Casey's two rivals are urging women not to sacrifice principle for pragmatism.

Both Sandals and Pennacchio hit that issue hard during a candidate forum Saturday night in nearby Greensburg sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"As famous as Bob Casey is, he's not going to be able to beat Rick Santorum, I'm afraid," Sandals told the audience of several dozen NAACP officials. "His position on women's right to choose is being anti-choice. I'm obviously pro-choice. A lot of moderate independents and Republicans are not going to vote for Bob because of that position."

Democratic leaders, however, have ignored that message. The state Democratic Party gave an early endorsement in 2005 to Casey and now features only Casey's photo in the list of Senate candidates on the party's Web site. Pro-choice rivals Pennacchio and Sandals are nowhere to be seen.

Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief at Women's eNews.

Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.

For more information:

Bob Casey for Senate:
http://www.bobcaseyforpa.com/

Chuck Pennacchio for Senate:
http://www.chuck2006.com/

Alan Sandals for Senate:
http://www.alansandals.com/

Note: Women's eNews is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites and the contents of Web pages we link to may change without notice.


 
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