- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

LANCASTER, Pa. — Top Democrats at several rallies in suburban Philadelphia this weekend worked to push their party’s voters to the polls in a state where Democrats feel poised to sweep key races and oust the Senate’s No. 3 Republican, Rick Santorum.

Gov. Edward G. Rendell joined Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Democrat Bob Casey Jr., who leads Mr. Santorum in polls, to declare the year of the Democrats here.

“Once again, Pennsylvania will lead the way you did at the beginning of our country,” Mrs. Pelosi told a crowd in Glenside, where the group stumped for Democratic House candidate Patrick Murphy.

“I want to see [Mr. Casey] as our senator for the next 30 years,” Mr. Rendell said, telling the screaming Glenside crowd that if they work hard to turn out the vote, “November 7th is going to be a great day for Pennsylvania, a great day for the Democratic Party.”

Polls show that five Republican-held House seats in the state are within reach of Democrats — so much so that Mrs. Pelosi spent the final campaign weekend here stumping for Democratic challengers.

Mr. Murphy and fellow Democrat Lois Murphy have gained ground in two Republican-held suburban Philadelphia districts, where they are challenging Reps. Michael G. Fitzpatrick and Jim Gerlach, respectively. Republican Reps. Don Sherwood and Curt Weldon are entangled in high-profile scandals that have helped Democratic challengers in their districts.

In the Senate race, Mr. Santorum has spent the past week arguing that Mr. Casey, the state treasurer and son of a former governor, will be soft on national-security issues at a time when decisiveness is needed. Mr. Casey has condemned Mr. Santorum as a rubber stamp for President Bush, who has just a 36 percent approval rating in Pennsylvania, according to a Survey USA poll.

“We’ve had too much of them, and on the morning of November 8, we’re going to be headed down a new road,” Mr. Casey told a crowd Saturday in Norristown.

“If we put in the wrong people … we will take our country in a direction that will harm our national security,” Mr. Santorum said yesterday in Lancaster.

Mr. Santorum cited a “botched joke” last week by Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, who implied that students who aren’t smart wind up in the military. Mr. Kerry’s remark has incited the Republican base here, one party operative said.

Republicans said the Democrats are claiming victory far too soon. Mr. Santorum has trailed in the polls before but enjoys a strong ground operation, said Dan Ronayne of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

“Anyone ready to count him out doesn’t know the man,” he said.

“If Democrats turn out at 38 percent and we turn out at 50 percent, you can take any polls and throw them out the window,” Mr. Santorum said yesterday.

Mr. Santorum, a leading social conservative in the Senate, has fought his hardest battle yet against Mr. Casey, a pro-life Democrat.

University of Pennsylvania political science professor Jack Nagel said liberal Democrats are willing to accept Mr. Casey’s more conservative stances.

“They’re realizing they might have to sacrifice on some social issues,” Mr. Nagel said.

Matt Cooley, a pro-choice Democrat from Ambler, gave Mr. Casey a tepid endorsement as a “thoughtful guy,” but said Mr. Santorum is “way too extreme for me” and predicted the Republican will be “toast” on Election Day.

For Lana Hopkins of Glenside, the election is all about unhappiness with the war in Iraq.

“This seems like a presidential election year,” she said of Democrats’ excitement level.

Still, Republican State Party Chairman Robert Gleason Jr. said Friday that he expects victory for Mr. Santorum as well as House Republicans and gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann because of the party’s get-out-the-vote effort.

Some Democrats are worried. A man at the Democrats’ rally in Norristown lamented, “All of us are wondering what Karl Rove’s going to pull on us.”

Party leaders warned their faithful against overconfidence.

“Polls never cast a vote,” Mr. Rendell said.

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