Senate Candidate Casey Wants Iraq-Policy Overhaul

This is the first of two interviews on the Pennsylvania Senate race. In part 2, Steve Inskeep speaks with Republican Sen. Rick Santorum.

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA, left) and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bob Casey

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) (left) and his challenger, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bob Casey, participate in a debate on Meet the Press, Sept. 3, 2006. Polls show Casey with a slim lead over Santorum in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the nation. Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Wong/Getty Images

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Like his Republican opponent, Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Democratic Senate hopeful Bob Casey is anti-abortion. Here, he talks about ways in which their stances on the issue differ.

Pennsylvania Senate Match-Up

From Day One, the contest between incumbent Republican Rick Santorum and Democratic challenger Bob Casey Jr. was seen as the premier Senate battle in the nation — or more like a heavyweight championship fight.

 

In one corner is Santorum, an unapologetic, strong anti-abortion conservative. He's a darling of the right and is thought to have presidential ambitions.

 

In the other corner is Casey, the Pennsylvania state treasurer, whose late father was an extremely popular two-term governor; like his father, Casey Jr. is anti-abortion.

 

Liberals say that Santorum is an ultra-conservative who is out of the mainstream; conservatives say Casey is a lightweight who got where he is solely on the basis of his last name.

 

Staying on the boxing metaphor a little longer, Santorum is trailing on the judges' cards and may need a knockout to win. The last time a Pennsylvania Republican senator was defeated for re-election was 1956 — a half-century ago. But history may not be able to win out over the current political terrain, which is decidely antiwar and anti-Republican.

 

Santorum is a tough, effective campaigner who, as we've said all year long, should not be counted out. He is a far better backslapper than the more reserved Casey. But the Republican has not been able to close the gap in the polls, and time is running out.

 

NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin

 

Rudin's Call: LEANS DEMOCRATIC

In Pennsylvania, polls suggest Democratic challenger Bob Casey Jr. may very well unseat Republican incumbent Rick Santorum in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the nation.

Casey, the state treasurer, is a pro-gun rights, anti-abortion Democrat whose family name carries weight in Pennsylvania politics. From 1987 to 1995, his late father, Bob Casey Sr., was the state's popular governor. Both the Philadelphia Inquirer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have endorsed Casey's candidacy for Senate.

Santorum is the Senate's third-ranking Republican and an outspoken conservative and vocal abortion opponent. With only two weeks left until Election Day, Santorum faces an uphill battle against Casey, who has led in the polls throughout much of the race.

In this race, as in so many other congressional races across the country, the war in Iraq is a defining issue.

For Casey, getting a handle on Iraq comes down to setting a series of benchmarks and holding the Bush administration, the Republican majority in Congress and the Pentagon accountable.

"If the Congress had done its job years ago on this question, we would have a readily identifiable and very specific set of benchmarks. But they didn't do that," Casey says.

Casey tells Steve Inskeep that he is not calling for a specific timetable for withdrawal for Iraq. But he suggests that the United States won't be able to adequately adapt and respond to the deteriorating situation in Iraq until a change in leadership takes place.

"You have to continually evaluate where you are," Casey says. "But you can't do that when you have a policy that George Bush put on the table and Rick Santorum rubberstamped over and over again — which is this policy: 'We're going to get it right. Trust us.'"

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