Pennsylvania Treasurer Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat, said yesterday that he will challenge Republican Sen. Rick Santorum in next year’s election.
The race would pit two ardently pro-life candidates against each other in a state that has a huge, grass-roots pro-life community, yet often votes Democratic in national elections.
It also reveals a deepening divide within the Democratic Party, with some thinking that in order to reverse its current losing streak, the party must compromise on certain values issues that go to the heart of the party. Since last fall’s election losses, some have argued that the Democratic Party should rethink its unwavering support for abortion rights.
While most Democratic leaders bristle at out-and-out compromise on the issue, some have suggested that the party should at least convey that it will be open-minded about abortion rights.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, former Vermont governor and failed candidate for his party’s presidential nomination in 2004, has emphasized the need to reach across the aisle into the ranks of pro-life Republicans.
“There’s nobody who’s pro-abortion in America,” Mr. Dean said upon accepting the chairman’s seat last month. “Democrats aren’t pro-abortion. Our belief is not that we’re pro-abortion, but we do believe that a woman has a right to make up her own mind.”
Before any battle is pitched between Mr. Casey and Mr. Santorum, Mr. Casey must win his party’s nomination. If former State Treasurer Barbara Hafer gets into the race as expected, for instance, Mr. Casey could have a hard time winning. Mr. Casey also could get edged out in a primary by former Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel, who just lost a hard-fought statewide election against Sen. Arlen Specter.
If Mr. Casey does snag the nomination, it could prove deeply troublesome for Mr. Santorum, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate.
A poll released last month conducted by Quinnipiac University showed Mr. Casey beating Mr. Santorum 46 percent to 41 percent. The same poll showed Mr. Santorum beating Ms. Hafer and Mr. Hoeffel if either of them secures the party’s nomination.
Mr. Casey shares his name — along with his looks and his voice — with his father, a legendary Democratic governor who was pro-life. Former Gov. Bob Casey, who died in 1995, secured his status as a darling in the pro-life community when he was denied a speaking engagement during the 1992 Democratic convention despite hailing from the nation’s fifth-largest state.
But in announcing his intentions to run for the Democratic nomination for Senate, the younger Mr. Casey did not promote his pro-life views.
“Pennsylvanians have seen first-hand the devastating effects of unfair federal trade policies that are causing us to hemorrhage jobs and of rising health-care costs that are squeezing family budgets and destroying the ability of our businesses to make a profit and hire new workers,” he said. “Instead of confronting these problems, the current Republican leadership in Washington views the results of the November election as a mandate to increase the speed and severity of their push to undermine policies that protect middle-income working families.”