- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2017

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania’s 2018 race for U.S. Senate is getting underway, with Monday’s entry of a fiery Republican state lawmaker from suburban Pittsburgh who has become known for his conservative and outspoken style in his six years in office.

Rick Saccone’s target is Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, the son of a late former governor and one of Pennsylvania’s best-known politicians. Saccone is little known in much of the state, but he is one the Legislature’s staunchest conservatives and is a backer of Republican President Donald Trump, which could help him in a primary.

Monday’s campaign event in the Pennsylvania Capitol drew dozens of supporters, including religious conservatives and fellow House Republicans.

Democrats in Pennsylvania maintain a 4-3 ratio registration edge over Republicans, but the state could be fertile territory for Republicans in 2018, given victories last November by Trump and incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey.

However, the race for the GOP nomination has been mostly crickets, while members of Congress and top state lawmakers quietly gauge their chances against Casey in private talks with fundraisers and party leaders.

Saccone compared the race against Casey to a story from the Torah, when Israelite scouts discovered with alarm that there were virtual giants living in Canaan.

“There are many people out there now saying the same thing about this race, ‘Oh, you can’t, they’re giants in the land, you can’t win, you can’t win,’” Saccone told a crowd of supporters. “Believe me, folks, these people may cast long shadows, but they are not giants. Bob Casey’s no giant.”

A retired Air Force captain, Saccone, 59, is a frequent critic of the government and political deal-making, and his speeches on the House floor are often passionate and forceful. He is prominent in the fight to expand gun rights and the role of religion in public life, sometimes making waves, such as with legislation he sponsored to declare 2012 the Year of the Bible in Pennsylvania.

Along with his opposition to abortion rights, Saccone has drawn the support of religious conservatives, including an introduction at Monday’s campaign event from a leader of the Pennsylvania Pastors Network.

Casey will seek a third six-year term in 2018.

Casey, 56, has been a fierce critic of Trump’s and is popular with labor unions. He also was a strong supporter of Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature initiatives, including his sweeping health care law and post-recession overhaul of financial-sector regulations.

Although Casey first ran in 2006 as an opponent of abortion rights and stronger gun laws, he has moderated those positions, and more recently he voted in line with his party on the issues.

Unseating Casey could be expensive. The race won by Toomey smashed U.S. Senate campaign finance records, with spending on it passing $160 million in the two-year cycle.


This story has been corrected to show the day of the event is Monday, not Tuesday.

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