In Tight Race, Santorum Urges Tactical Shift in Iraq

This is the second of two interviews on the Pennsylvania Senate race. In part 1, Steve Inskeep speaks with Democratic challenger Bob Casey Jr.

Sen. Rick Santorum

hide captionSen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), seen here at a fundraising event on Oct. 5, faces an uphill re-election battle against Democratic challenger Bob Casey Jr.

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MORE FROM SANTORUM

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) says the Republican Party's agenda is better tailored to the values and concerns of the average working-class American. Hear more from Santorum on the future of the GOP and his plans to run for a Senate leadership position:

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 decidedly 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 Analyst Ken Rudin

 

Rudin's Call: LEANS DEMOCRATIC

Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum is seeking re-election in one of the tightest Senate races in the country — and the poll numbers favor his opponent, Democrat Bob Casey Jr.

Unlike other embattled Republican incumbents, Santorum isn't trying to distance himself from President Bush on Iraq. But he does say that the United States needs to re-evaluate its tactical plan, as violence in Iraq surges.

Santorum has long been an ally of Mr. Bush. But he tells Steve Inskeep that there are key differences between him and the president.

"On the greatest issue of the day, which is the issue of confronting this evil of Islamic fascism, yeah, we stand together on 100 percent determination to confront it," Santorum says. "We disagree on some tactics. We disagree on immigration. Yeah, we agree on a lot of issues."

When it comes to Iraq, Santorum says his chief criticism of the president lies in what he sees as a failure to properly address neighboring Iran's role in fueling sectarian violence.

"The only place I've distanced myself is how we've dealt with Iraq in the context of Iran," Santorum says. "I happen to believe — and I've been saying this for the better part of a year, actually more than a year — that Iran is the principal problem in Iraq, and that the reason that we're getting it wrong in Iraq is because we haven't been paying attention to the complicating factor of Iran."

Santorum also says that the dramatic rise in sectarian violence in Iraq in recent months has made clear that a shift in U.S. tactics may be necessary. Such a change, he says, could include the restructuring of Iraq into "a much looser confederation" than the Bush administration originally envisioned.

The senator is quick to reject suggestions that his and other Republicans' recent criticisms on current Iraq strategy are part of an election-year strategy.

"I don't think it's particularly helpful to portray this as some — that we've sort of thrown this out as an election year, last-minute change of strategy — when we've seen, the last couple of months, a dramatic shift in the amount of sectarian violence," he says.

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