Santorum vulnerable in hot Senate race

PITTSBURGH — There’s already been a reported shoving match, negative TV ads, federal money flowing in, and it is only the “dog days” of August. What’s up? Pennsylvania’s hot Senate campaign.

Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is the third-ranking Republican leader in Congress and, after voting 98 percent of the time with the Bush administration, is considered by all political analysts to be the most vulnerable Senate Republican up for re-election.

If money talks, then big money is speaking for Santorum. As of Aug. 2, the Center for Responsive Politics reports, Santorum raised $21 million while Bob Casey, the Democratic candidate, had $10 million. Santorum ranks second among all Senate candidates in raking in contributions. Notably, the amount of money Santorum got from oil corporations was second only to Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchinson.

Santorum was the front man on the Bush campaign to privatize Social Security. On Santorum’s watch, 180,000 manufacturing jobs are gone forever from Pennsylvania as he voted against any measure to stem the hemorrhage.

The full impact of Santorum’s corporate front-man role is not lost on Pennsylvania’s workers. In August, the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO led 25 labor walks, door to door, talking to union members and their families about jobs, health care, Social Security and education. The 900,000-member federation and its powerful retired worker affiliates have never been so united in their efforts to restore the voice of working families in the Senate.

At Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR/USW) picnics in Aliquippa and West Mifflin, the mere mention of Santorum’s name drew loud boos and some cussing.

For the first time in recent memory, even the state Democratic Party is on the move, mobilizing volunteers on Saturdays in August to door-knock, especially in the cities.

Despite a month-long $5 million ad campaign, which was unanswered by the Democratic candidate, Santorum did not gain much in the polls. In May, before Santorum’s media blitz, voters gave him a 39 percent favorable job rating, with 33 percent disapproving. Following the blitz, his approval and disapproval ratings were both 37 percent. But while Casey is still ahead by 48-42 percent, that was down from an earlier double-digit lead.

Polls suggest Bush is no help to Santorum. In a late August Quinnipiac poll, 64 percent of Pennsylvanians disapproved of Bush’s overall performance and opposed the Iraq war.

Casey recently completed a “front porch” bus tour through rural areas of the state. While expressing confidence, he said defeating Santorum was “not going to be easy.” Speaking in Clarion, in northwest Pennsylvania, Casey noted that Santorum voted three times to raise U.S. senators’ pay, while voting 13 times against raising the minimum wage. Casey pledged support for a minimum wage increase and stopping subsidies for oil corporations.

The campaign opens officially with a live debate broadcast nationwide on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sept. 3.

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