- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the Republican Party’s most vulnerable incumbent, trails state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr. by 10 to 15 percentage points, but the race will tighten when Democrats learn more about Mr. Casey’s pro-life views, pollsters and campaign advisers said yesterday.

Mr. Casey’s pro-life position has angered pro-choice Democratic activists and could bring into the race Kate Michelman, former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Should that happen, it would split the Democrats and turn the November election into a competitive contest, independent polls indicate.

“If there were a third-party candidate on the ballot who is pro-choice, that candidate could draw heavily from Casey backers among liberal Democrats, enough to make it a close race,” said Clay F. Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, whose surveys show that Mr. Casey is vulnerable on the abortion issue with pro-choice Democrats.

“If Michelman gets in, I think you would see Casey’s support drop,” Mr. Richards said.

Both Mr. Santorum and Mr. Casey are pro-life. The big difference is that the two-term senator receives strong support on his position from the Republican Party base, while Mr. Casey represents a party that is overwhelmingly pro-choice in a state that has some of the most conservative abortion laws in the nation.

An earlier Quinnipiac poll found that when voters were told about Mr. Casey’s pro-life position, many Democrats reacted negatively to his candidacy. Such a development could spell trouble for Mr. Casey when the race heats up later this year.

“A significant number of Casey supporters still do not know that Casey is opposed to abortion. There are a significant number of pro-choice voters whose entire opinion swings on that one issue, and unlike other single-issue voters, they will use their vote on just that one issue, even it if hurts the candidate they are otherwise philosophically attuned with,” Mr. Richards said.

Other developments angered pro-choice Democrats and complicated the party’s campaign to unseat Mr. Santorum.

Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, pressured pro-choice candidate Barbara Hafer to drop out of the race to clear the way for Mr. Casey’s nomination in the May 16 party primary.

Also, Mr. Casey said he would have voted to confirm Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s nomination to the Supreme Court. The announcement further alienated Democrats who opposed the pro-life jurist.

“For me and for many people across the country who care about women’s rights, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Ms. Michelman said, hinting that she may enter the contest. “I have become a vehicle for people who feel they have to take action at a time of crisis.”

Until now, the Santorum campaign has been unable to draw out Mr. Casey on the issues in what Republicans call a Democratic “stealth campaign.”

“When people start to find out what Casey believes, it will affect his support,” said Santorum campaign spokeswoman Virginia Davis.

Casey campaign officials declined to talk about Democratic reaction to his pro-choice views or about Ms. Michelman’s political aspirations. “I’ll leave that to the pundits. We’ll wait and see if she gets in the race,” said Casey spokesman Larry Smar.

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