Casey will run for Santorum’s seat; rivals drop out
By BOB WARNER
After weeks of courtship by national Democratic leaders, state treasurer Bob Casey Jr. announced yesterday that he’ll run for the U.S. Senate next year, trying to unseat two-term Republican incumbent Rick Santorum.
And in a move - rare for Pennsylvania Democrats - to unite early behind a single candidate, former state treasurer Barbara Hafer said she would stay out of the race, at Gov. Rendell’s request.
Another potential candidate, former U.S. Rep. Joseph Hoeffel, said he has also decided not to run and told Casey yesterday morning.
“I think the party has united behind Bob,” Hoeffel said. “I believe he has the best chance of beating Rick Santorum, and that’s the most important thing for me.”
The announcements set up next year’s Pennsylvania Senate race to be one of the nation’s most heavily contested, closely watched races.
Some national Democrats are said to be anxious to take the scalp of a top Republican to avenge the defeat last fall of Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Santorum, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate as Senate Republican Policy Chairman, would fit that bill.
In addition, the anointing of Casey, a longtime foe of abortion-rights, as a favored Democratic candidate reflects an emerging view that the party has to avoid litmus tests on social issues to remain competitive with Republicans.
Santorum, 46, won the Senate seat in 1994, beating incumbent Harris Wofford by 87,000 votes as Republicans capitalized on missteps in the first years of the Clinton administration. In 2000, Santorum was re-elected with a solid 327,000-vote margin, over western Pennsylvania congressman Ron Klink.
Casey, 44, the son of the late Pennsylvania governor, inherited much of his father’s popularity and political organization, handily winning two terms as auditor general and piling up 3.3 million votes in his race for state treasurer last November - the biggest vote total ever run up in Pennsylvania, 415,000 votes ahead of John Kerry.
Casey’s only political misstep was the 2002 Democratic primary race for governor, where he started as the favorite but rarely displayed as much energy or charisma as Rendell.
He could face the same problems against Santorum, who has spent the past 14 years dealing with federal issues, polishing his political skills and distributing millions of dollars in federal aid.
But in a prepared statement yesterday and follow-up telephone interviews with reporters around the state, Casey said his experience dealing with problems of Pennsylvania citizens gives him plenty of insight into national issues.
“The middle class in Pennsylvania often wonders who’s gonna be on their side and fight the battles they need fought in Washington,” Casey told the Daily News. “We’re just not seeing those battles fought today.”
Casey sounded several populist themes.
“We’re seeing virtually no action that brings down the cost of health care,” he said. “On Social Security, there’s lots of action, but in the wrong direction. And on trade, what a lot of families are seeing is a hemorrhaging of jobs, brought on by an unfair trade policy, a deficit growing by hundreds of millions of dollars, and tax cuts for millionaires.”
[start writing those voter guides!!!]