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Pennsylvania Senate Race

RealClearPolitics Election Analysis

At the age of 36, Rick Santorum rode the 1994 GOP surge to a 2-pt win over Harris Wofford, 49 - 47. In 2000, his outspoken social conservatism in the traditionally more moderate Northeast made him a prime target for Democrats, but unlike many other Class of '94 conservatives (Spencer Abraham, Rod Grams and John Ashcroft) Santorum defied the skeptics and won reelection with 52% of the vote.

This November it looks like the Democrats may be poised to accomplish what they couldn't get done six years ago.

State Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., while not a charismatic campaigner, is a much better candidate, with a much better name (Casey's late father was a very popular two-term PA Governor) than Santorum's 2000 opponent, former Rep. Ron Klink.

Like his father, Casey is pro-life, which helps neutralize the abortion issue (an important issue in Pennsylvania). But unlike Klink, who was also pro-life, Casey is from the eastern part of the state. With Governor Rendell likely to pile up big margins in the Philadelphia suburbs, the Southeast quadrant of the state becomes a major battleground and Bob Casey is better positioned to win these voters than Ron Klink was in 2000.

When you look at the polling over the past year, Casey seems to consistently float in the 48-52 range while Santorum remains stuck below 40. Adding to Santorum's poll problems is his approval ratings have fallen into the 30's, which is very low for sitting Senators. Santorum regularly polls at the bottom of Survey USA's list of job approval for all 100 Senators. Cutting through the noise, Casey appears to have a rough, structural 50-40 lead. And that, in a nutshell, is Santorum's biggest problem: he is just down by too much.

There is no question that this race is going to close. And it would be a mistake to completely write off Santorum's chances of pulling out a come-from-behind win. Casey has blown big leads before, including a 20+ point lead against Rendell in the 2002 Democratic primary that turned into a 14-point loss.

Santorum is an excellent campaigner (much better than Casey) and he will also be very well funded. Right now he holds a 2-1 edge in cash-on-hand. Also Pennsylvania's senior Senator Arlen Specter, who literally owes his seat to Santorum, will be an asset in the critical Southeast part of the state where Santorum has to do well if he hopes to prevail.

Santorum needs to see President Bush's and the generic GOP numbers continue to improve and he needs to close his gap in the post-Labor Day polls back into the 6-9 pt range in the RCP Average. If both these things happen by mid-September (probably a 50-50 chance) this race can move back to a tossup. However, right now from where things stand today, it looks like Santorum is just fighting too big a headwind and, while poised to close substantially, looks likely to come up a short on election day. (RCP Ranking: Leans Democrat)

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