Political Wrap: Pennsylvania Races Heat Up

NPR's political junkie Ken Rudin and Democratic Senate candidate Bob Casey talk about the Pennsylvania and New Hampshire primaries.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

NEAL CONAN, Host:

And now it's time for our roundup in the week of politics with Ken Rudin, NPR's card-carrying political junkie. If you have questions for Ken about the mid-term elections, local mayoral races, primaries yesterday, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. You can also e-mail us, talk@npr.org.

And Mr. Rudin is here with us in Studio 3A. As always, nice to have you back today.

KEN RUDIN, reporting:

Mr. Conan.

CONAN: There's a lot to talk about. The Senate, here in Washington, is busy at work trying to pass an immigration bill. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania has itself a Democratic candidate for the United States Senate.

RUDIN: They do. Well, we'll talk about Pennsylvania first and the fact that Bob Casey, the state treasurer; former two-term auditor general; the son of the late governor, Bob Casey, who--well-known in the state, well-beloved in the state, a very pro-life candidate. It's very interesting that Bob Casey is running against Rick Santorum, probably the premier Senate race in the country this year. Bob Casey is pro-guns, anti-abortion, anti-stem cell research, and yet he may be the best chance for the Democrats to pick up a seat in the Senate this year, or at least a leading candidate to pick up a seat. And it's kind of ironic given the fact that his positions are out of tune, shall we say, with national Democratic thought.

CONAN: And yesterday his rival come November, Rick Santorum, who won unopposed in the Republican primary yesterday, wasted no time calling out his opponent. Let's take a listen to Senator Santorum.

SENATOR RICK SANTORUM (Republican, Pennsylvania): This is the biggest Senate race in the country. This is the one that everybody's focused on. This is aimed, in many respects, the national election of the 2006 cycle. And so I ask Bob Casey to step forward, let the people of Pennsylvania know what you believe, and let's have a good, honest debate on the issues for the people of Pennsylvania to decide who they want to be their United States Senator.

CONAN: Well, joining us now is Bob Casey, Pennsylvania's Democratic candidate for the United States Senate, current state treasurer. He is with us on the line today from his office in Philadelphia. And Mr. Casey, first of all, congratulations on your victory yesterday.

Mr. BOB CASEY (Pennsylvania State Treasurer; Democratic Senatorial Candidate): And, Neal, thank you very much. Great to be with you and Ken.

CONAN: And I wanted to ask you, well, Rick Santorum called you out. Are you going to have an honest debate of the issues?

Mr. CASEY: We've been doing that for a while, I think. Senator Santorum, at his headquarters last night, of course, he had no primary. He--they rubber-stamped him like he rubber-stamps President Bush 98 percent of the time. We'll get to that later but he once again was deliberately misleading the people of Pennsylvania, making it seem as if the people of our state don't know where I stand on the whole series of issues. That's simply untrue and he knows it and he deliberately misled people. So we sent him a list today of 30 issues, just 30. There are many more, but 30 issues where he and I disagree.

And he's really in trouble now because he's been rubber-stamping President Bush all these years and in that time period, while he was voting with the president 98 percent of the time, our state lost 181,000 manufacturing jobs, 714,000 people lost their health insurance, and a lot of families in Pennsylvania are scratching their heads, saying, if you're such a great leader, Senator Santorum, why are you voting with this president and rubber-stamping his policies, which have an adverse impact on the people of Pennsylvania.

So he was, I think he was a little upset that I got 85 percent of the vote in a contested Democratic primary, so he was doing everything possible to change the subject to some silly argument about appearing before the people of Pennsylvania. So we'll be, we'll be in a long, tough campaign but we're going to win. But it's going to be long and tough, because he's got the Bush White House funding his campaign, as well as the lobbyists in Washington.

RUDIN: Mr. Casey, hi. It's Ken Rudin here. By the way, I don't know if you know this. Today is the 40th anniversary of your dad's first run for governor of the 1966 primary.

Mr. CASEY: That's right.

RUDIN: Today's the anniversary.

What's interesting, I know you're trying to link Rick Santorum with the president, and that's probably not too hard to do, but at the same time, you have taken some positions on abortion, on stem cell research, on guns, that is different than, shall we say, the so-called mainstream of the Democratic Party. Do you see any irony in that you may be the best hope for the Democratic Party, and yet your positions may not be in tune with theirs?

Mr. CASEY: Yeah, well, I guess I'll leave the analysis to someone else about what that means for the party.

But I do think that, just for example, Ken, on the issue of abortion, I've been a public official the last ten years and I've been a pro-life Democrat. Some people call it something else, they all it anti-abortion, or whatever terminology you use, I have that position. And I think what's missing in Washington is, first of all, honesty about disagreements; but especially what's missing is respect for people that disagree.

And what I'm part of, I think, is a broad consensus of the American people, left, right, or center, that agree at least on one aspect of this important issue, which is we should reduce the number of abortions, we should reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. And that's why it's so interesting that, in this race, Senator Santorum does not share that consensus point of view.

He doesn't support increases to family planning. He doesn't support strategies that will reduce the number of abortions, whether its birth control or emergency contraception or the programs and the policies that help women who choose to become mothers. So I think there's a broad consensus on that. I think that's what happened yesterday.

In all of the regions of Pennsylvania where great pundits were predicting that the Casey vote wouldn't be high because of a disagreement on some important issues, a lot of Democrats put aside disagreements on one or two issues and said we're going to come together and support this candidate, who can defeat Rick Santorum and change the direction of the country. And that's what we're going to do.

It's going to be difficult, but I think Pennsylvania can lead the way and change the direction. I don't think anyone wants us to stay on this road we're on.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller in on the conversation. This is Tim(ph). Tim calling from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

TIM (Caller): Yes, hi. I would like the pundits to talk--or the gentlemen to talk about the casino issue in Gettysburg and how they're attempting to put a casino about a mile away from the national battlefield. And I'll take your response off the air.

CONAN: Okay. I'm sure you'll end up being accused of a lot of things during this race Mr. Casey, but pundit probably isn't one of them. We apologize for that.

Mr. CASEY: It--and I will answer unless Ken wants to, as well.

CONAN: No, no. You do ahead.

Mr. CASEY: And I'm a public official in Pennsylvania, state treasurer, and I have an obligation to answer a lot of questions that don't always pertain to the Senate race. And it's a very important question.

The broader question is gaming, and I've always been very skeptical of the value of gaming over the long-term, especially when there's a dramatic expansion, as Pennsylvania is about to embark on. So I've got real concerns with that. But I--those in power have made their determination that they want to have expanded gaming in Pennsylvania.

I think the Gettysburg question, though, is important, because it's one thing to say that the public officials support an expansion of gaming; it's another thing to put that in the middle of, or near--in close proximity to a national historic park. And I think that if I had any say in this, and I don't, I would certainly not support that. Because if we can't preserve those kinds of treasures, like the Gettysburg is for our nation's history and the Commonwealth's history, then I think we're all in big trouble.

So I think it's a terrible example of, really, the reach of gaming into a place where it shouldn't be.

CONAN: Now, I'm going to ask you one final question, and let Ken have one, too. But where--this is going to be an immensely expensive race…

Mr. CASEY: Right.

CONAN: …a nationalized race. Where are you going to get the money?

Mr. CASEY: Well, we're going to get the money from people all over Pennsylvania. We've already raised $8 million, and most of it in-state, three-quarters of it in-state. And that's been raised by people coming together, often in very small groups of people, 15, 20 people at a time, coming into peoples' homes or their offices.

I don't have--I've got to work four-times as hard, and I already have. I've already outworked Rick Santorum in fundraising, because I have to compete with the Bush White House and Dick Cheney and the lobbyists. I mean, they've literally raised him more than half of his treasury, and he's already raised some $16 million since '01.

We've done well in the first calendar year, we've raised $8 million; but we need help and anyone that's out there that wants to help us on any aspect of our campaign, if they go to www.bobcaseyforpa.com, or www.bobcaseyforpennsylvania.com, they can help us with different aspects.

But we're going to be able to raise the money, and principally because the people of Pennsylvania want change. They want us to go in a different direction. They know, whether it's the deficit, or on all this ideology that Senator Santorum has been a part of in the harsh partisanship and the healthcare crisis, no matter what you talk about--a whole list of issues--they know we're on the wrong road and they know we have to take a different path.

CONAN: Bob Casey, thanks very much. We wish you the best of luck.

Mr. CASEY: Thanks for having us on.

CONAN: Pennsylvania State Treasurer Bob Casey, who, yesterday, won the Democratic nomination to run against Rick Santorum, the Republican candidate, for the United States Senate.

Santorum, of course, not only the candidate, but the incumbent. We've extended an invitation to Senator Santorum and hope he'll be able to join us on Political Junkie in a forthcoming week.

Ken, that not the only primary election in Pennsylvania yesterday--one interesting Democratic Congressional race where an Iraqi war veteran was trying to get the opportunity to run in a swing district just outside of Philadelphia.

RUDIN: Right, and that's Patrick Murphy. And he did win the Democratic nomination. Iraqi war veteran.

There are several Democrats around the country who--Democrats are trying to recruit Iraq war veterans to run to show that, you know, the party is strong on defense and the party should not be seen as weak on these kinds of national security issues. But, you know, while the headline is Casey versus Santorum for the Senate and Ed Rendell versus Lynn Swann for Governor, another thing that happened in Illinois--in Illinois, a different state--in Pennsylvania yesterday that I thought was interesting was that 14 members of the state legislature, at least 14, had been defeated because they had voted-- the Republican-led state legislature voted itself a huge pay raise last year. I think a 54 percent pay raise. It's since been…

CONAN: In the middle of the night. Never good symbolism.

RUDIN: It was sort of like the Baltimore Colts leaving town. But, of course, you know, even though that it didn't hold, there's tremendous voter outrage. And I don't know if that's going to take down all incumbents. If that's the case, then maybe Mr. Rendell might be in some kind of trouble. Or it will just take down Republicans, because it's concerning the fact that it came out of a Republican legislature. But there is anger in the State of Pennsylvania. We saw that unusual anger. We saw it yesterday in the primary.

CONAN: We're talking with Political Junkie Ken Rudin, as we do every Monday. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION.

RUDIN: Wednesday. Wednesday.

CONAN: It's Wednesday?

RUDIN: Wednesday. Yeah.

CONAN: Wednesday.

RUDIN: Wednesday.

CONAN: It's TALK OF THE NATION. Am I right about that? It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

A little brain cramp there. Anyway, let's see if we can get a caller on the line. This is Joe(ph). Joe's calling from Louisville.

JOE (Caller): Hello. How are you all doing today?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

JOE: Good luck to Mr. Casey there in Pennsylvania. We had a fellow here in Louisville, in the Third Congressional District, who is running. He's an ex--he's an Iraq--he's a Marine that served in the Iraq war. And he was trying for the Democratic nominee to run against Anne Northrup, who's been in Congress for about four or five terms now. And he lost yesterday by about 20 percentage points to a fellow here in Louisville.

This guy is a writer; he's a newspaperman, the fellow who won. His name is John Yarmuth, and I was wanting to ask your Political Junkie there if he knew anything about this race and what he thought the chances are of somebody--this guy has not much political experience in office, but he's going to be running against Anne Northrup, who has pretty much toted the presidential baggage for the last ten years. She's very much like Santorum, except that she's from, you know, the House of Representatives instead of the Senate.

So I was wondering if he thinks that there might be something going on here on the grassroots level that a lot of these incumbents might be vulnerable. Even though she's going to have a lot more money.

CONAN: All right, let him answer, Joe.

JOE: Yeah. Sorry.

RUDIN: Well, you know, I mean, I think that what Anne Northrup and Rick Santorum have in common is the R after their name. I see Rick Santorum more of a real social conservative, a leader in the anti-abortion fight and things like that, whereas Northrup, given the fact that it's the Louisville suburbs, given the fact that it always had been a Democratic seat--that was the Mazzoli seat when he gave it up, I guess, after '92 or '94--and Northrup, if you, always look at every time that there's a mid-term election or when Congress is up for reelection, she's on the top of the Democratic hit list. They want to defeat her.

But I think she's kind of really run a pretty moderate course. She's very attuned to what the district wants, and leads it very aware that there are a lot of Democrats in that Third Congressional District in Kentucky. So while always that, you know--she's always on that hit list--and she may still, you know, fall in November, because if there's a national anti-Republican wave, she might be one of the first to go down. But, right now, it looks like she's in pretty good shape for another term.

JOE: Well, we hope not here. But she gets a lot of that pork barrel money, and I think she's real good at being able to spread that around here in her district. So that's been a big thing for her.

CONAN: All right Joe, thanks very much.

JOE: Thank you for your answer.

CONAN: Appreciate the call.

JOE: Uh-huh. Bye.

CONAN: Interesting development in the State of New Hampshire today, where a gentleman named Joe Tobin is about to be sentenced, sometime today, for his involvement in, well, I think we call this a dirty trick.

RUDIN: Well, you know, once upon a time there was a break-in in a building in Washington that was called a third-rate burglary, and nobody paid much attention to it, except for these two reporters from The Washington Post.

That's what seemed to have happened on election night in 2002, in New Hampshire. James Tobin, this was the--he was the regional director for the Republican National Committee in New Hampshire, and what he helped orchestrate was--there were these phone calls that came--they were get-out-the-vote phone calls that were coming out of the Democratic party and some unions, and they were blocked by this dirty trick. It was clearly a dirty trick. Everybody agrees, that they basically--all the phone calls were stopped. The Democrats couldn't make the calls. The unions couldn't make the calls.

Now, again, a dirty trick, you know, you pay your price, you go to--you get sentenced and you go to prison for whatever, you know, violating--violation of communications act. But there are some things here that, you know, these conspiracy theories out in the blogosphere--like sometimes I shake my head and say what are these guys talking about--but there's something here that just won't go away.

One, the Republican National Committee is paying the entire amount of the defense bill for James Tobin; it's like $2.5 million. He's being represented by Williams & Connelly, one of the major, you know, law firms in the city. Like, you know, this is not a third-rate burglary.

And the fact was proven--it was shown that the night of Election Day, 2002, there was a major election Senate race in New Hampshire between Jeanne Shaheen and John Sununu. That's why it was a very key race for that year. Tobin made 22 phone calls to the White House on election night shortly after the bugging--the jamming of the phones started, through the next morning of election.

So when you add all these things, you say, well, is there more here than meets the eye? Nothing has been proven yet. The White House says absolutely no; they were not involved in any kind of chicanery at all. But, when you add up all these little things you say, Hmm. And I guess that's why God created the Internet.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And finally, just a few seconds left, but a new hat in the ring for the Democratic presidential nomination for 2008.

RUDIN: It's Tom Daschle. And, you know, I guess the old, you know--we saw Richard Nixon lose for governor in 1962 and get elected for president his next race, so maybe Tom Daschle felt that losing his Senate race in 2004 in South Dakota may be a kickoff.

But, you know, he's a smart guy, he's an ambitious guy. And I guess he always wanted to be president. I think he wanted that one more victory under his belt. He didn't get it, but that's--he's still going to go visit Iowa and New Hampshire and see what happens.

CONAN: Thanks, as always. Ken Rudin with us here in Studio 3A. Ken is our political editor. You can read his take on the Pennsylvania races, including the prospects for Senator Rick Santorum, in his latest Political Junkie column, up every week at npr.org.

Mondays, Wednesdays, who cares, it's always there. He joined us here in Studio 3A. Ken, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: I'm Neal Conan, NPR News, in Washington.

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