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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

Here's a forecast to mark down for later: two weeks before the election, presidential advisor Karl Rove says his party will keep control of Congress. He made that forecast yesterday in an interview with NPR's Robert Siegel, who noted that polls show Republicans in trouble.

ROBERT SIEGEL: I'm looking at all the same polls that you're looking at every day.

KARL ROVE (Presidential Advisor): No, you're not. No, you're not.

SIEGEL: No, I'm not. You're right. You're right.

Mr. ROVE: No, you're not. You're not. I'm looking at 68 polls a week. You may be looking at four or five public polls a week that talk about attitudes nationally, but that do not impact the outcome of...

SIEGEL: I'm thinking of main races between - certainly Senate races...

Mr. ROVE: Yeah. Well, like the poll today showing that Corker's ahead in Tennessee, or the race - the poll showing that Allen is pulling away in the Virginia Senate race.

SIEGEL: Leading Webb in Virginia, yeah.

Mr. ROVE: Yeah, exactly.

SIEGEL: But you've seen the DeWine race and the Santorum race, and the -I don't want to have you call races, you're looking at races.

Mr. ROVE: Yeah, look, I'm looking at all the - I'm looking at all these, Robert, and adding them up, and I add up to a Republican Senate and a Republican House.

INSKEEP: That's Karl Rove on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED last night. The Santorum race they mentioned involves one of the most vulnerable Republican senators. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is under pressure, in part because of his support for President Bush on Iraq. His Democratic challenger, Bob Casey, describes Santorum's views this way:

Mr. BOB CASEY (Democratic Candidate for Senate, Pennsylvania): Trust us, we're going to get it right. Don't ask any questions. No hearings, no accountability. And I think our troops have paid a very dear price for that. And Rick Santorum's one of those leaders who didn't have the guts and the integrity and the independence to stand up to George Bush.

INSKEEP: Let's hear how Santorum describes his position, because we have been talking with the candidates in that fierce contest. We are replaying the interviews in the order that they happened to be scheduled, so Casey was yesterday and Senator Santorum gets the last word this morning.

When we reached the senator in Pennsylvania, he worked to show that he supports the president but is also independent.

Senator RICK SANTORUM (Republican, Pennsylvania): On the greatest issue of the day, which is the issue of, you know, confronting this evil of Islamic fascism, yeah, we stand together on a 100 percent determination to confront it. We disagree on some tactics, and I've, you know, been questioned about that. We've had differences on another major issue in this campaign in the country, and that's immigration. So, I mean, on - yeah, we agree on a lot of issues. We agree that we need to keep taxes low, and that we need to keep spending down. We believe in the traditional family values. I mean, yeah, we agree on a lot of those things.

INSKEEP: You didn't mention Iraq, an issue on which a lot of Republicans have been distancing themselves from the president. You haven't.

Sen. SANTORUM: No. The only place I've distanced myself is how we've dealt with Iraq in the context of Iran. I happen to believe, and I've been saying this for the better part of a year, that - 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 paid attention to the complicating factor of Iran. And we saw that played out more specifically last week with Muqtada al Sadr and his now-blatant disregard for the government which he is a part of, in trying to take portions of cities under his militia's control, all driven by Iran. I mean, he is a complete puppet of the Iranian government.

INSKEEP: Let me just stick with Iraq here for a moment, though. Republicans - your fellow Republicans in the Senate, some of them -including John Warner, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee -have been talking about a change of course in Iraq. Why not think about a change of course in Iraq?

Sen. SANTORUM: Again, there's a - what you're - you're talking at the tactical level, and I will get into that in a minute. What I'm talking about is the strategic level. The strategic level is, this is an enemy we have to confront, Iraq is the battlefield we have to confront them on because that's where they are right now. And if we don't confront them there, we'll be confronting them in the streets of America. There's no question in my mind that that's the case. That's the strategic question. On a tactical level, I, you know, I agree that there are some tactical things we have to do differently. You know, it may be a different government structure in Iraq, it maybe a partition of Iraq. We need to look at that, and that option clearly has to be on the table now that we have not been able to stop the sectarian violence led by Iran in Iraq. And that goes back to Iran as another failing, tactically, in my opinion.

INSKEEP: You're willing to talk about the breakup of Iraq now?

Sen. SANTORUM: I'm not willing to talk about the breakup of Iraq. I think what we're talking about...

INSKEEP: Didn't you say partition, just a minute ago?

Sen. SANTORUM: Yes. Partition means different things to different people. I don't think anyone is talking about the breakup of Iraq into different countries. I think what we're talking about is a much looser confederation than what we originally envisioned.

INSKEEP: Hmm.

Sen. SANTORUM: Is that a shock to you?

INSKEEP: I was - I just wasn't certain exactly what you're...

Sen. SANTORUM: Is that a shock to you? I'm asking a question.

INSKEEP: How recently did you come out for that?

Sen. SANTORUM: No. That's - to me, I mean, obviously the Iraqis have been talking about this. This is not how recently I came out for that. I mean, Iraq - the Iraqis had it as a part of their discussion. I mean, we need to look at whether, you know, keeping Iraq unified - particularly given the level of violence that we've seen - is something that is sustainable.

INSKEEP: This sounds a little bit similar to what Senator Joe Biden, a Democrat, has proposed in recent months. Do you see similarities?

Sen. SANTORUM: I - you know, what I - I wish I could tell you that I've seen what Joe Biden proposed but I haven't seen it. I've been, sort of, preoccupied with my own things here.

INSKEEP: Do you think that some Republicans are hedging their bets, in a sense, with all these talk - all this talk - of strategic changes or tactical changes right before an election?

Sen. SANTORUM: Have you noticed that things have changed a little bit in Iraq? That the level of violence, particularly sectarian violence, has increased? I don't think it's particularly helpful to portray this as some - that we've sort of thrown this out an election year, you know, last-minute change of strategy, when we've seen over the last couple of months a dramatic shift in the amount of sectarian violence. And if, in fact, the enemy is adapting and adjusting to cause problems in Iraq, and I believe they are - and again, led by Iran - then we need to adapt and come up with a strategy that responds to their changes in tactics.

INSKEEP: So you're saying we need to adapt, that things are going poorly, that things are getting worse, given the...

Sen. SANTORUM: I don't think I said either of those words. What I see is that Iran is taking a more - a role of trying to destroy a democracy there.

INSKEEP: You've said that the violence has increased, and that we need to adapt.

Sen. SANTORUM: That's correct.

INSKEEP: Do you think that the president and his advisers are adapting quickly enough?

Sen. SANTORUM: I'm hopeful that we'll see some things out of the administration that reflects that. To date, I would say that we have not - again, and I go back to Iran - we have not effectively confronted Iran and I think that is the key problem here.

INSKEEP: Would you favor military action against Iran if it does not see the U.S.'s way on its nuclear program?

Sen. SANTORUM: I've said it repeatedly, that Iran cannot be a North Korea. We cannot wake up one day and have Iran with a nuclear weapon. And that means that I would absolutely strike them if I thought that they were close to developing a nuclear weapon.

INSKEEP: And in an intelligence estimate that they're close, that would be sufficient in your mind to...

Sen. SANTORUM: I think you'd have to obviously try to get as many Intelligence estimates as much as you can. I'm not particularly confident of our intelligence in the Middle East. But, you know, the fact that North Korea has a nuclear weapon, that there are - is close collaboration between North Korea and Iran, leads me to believe that if, you know, we are not that far away from Iran. When I say not that far away, at best estimates are a few years, but this is a real concern and we have to stay on top of it.

INSKEEP: Senator Rick Santorum, thanks very much.

Sen. SANTORUM: Thank you.

INSKEEP: To hear the senator's views on the future of the Republican Party, and his plans on running for Senate leadership, go to NPR.org., which is where you can also listen to our interview with his challenger, Bob Casey, and last night's conversation with Karl Rove.

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