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The Ghost of Terri Schiavo

By Michael Smerconish

The eyes of the political world will be on us come fall. Pennsylvania is home to the hottest Senate race and three of the most contested House races in the nation. The outcome of the Santorum-Casey, Fitzpatrick-Murphy, Gerlach-Murphy and Weldon-Sestak races could determine control of Congress.

The vulnerability of many GOPers is war-related. But there are also important social issues, notably the attempted intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo.

Some clues on that might be found in Connecticut, which just had a bruising Democratic primary between Joseph Lieberman and Ned Lamont. Not only did they differ on the war, but also the Schiavo case. In fact, Ned Lamont welcomed Michael Shiavo at a statehouse campaign appearance.

"I am a staunch believer in government staying out of private lives... Lieberman believes government should rule lives," Michael Schiavo told me this week.

Michael Schiavo has formed TerriPac, a political fund-raiser, to get involved in races where those who opposed him in the battle over his wife are standing for re-election. He has taken a position in Florida congressional races, its gubernatorial election and two congressional races in Colorado. He has a stump speech that he delivered in Connecticut.

"I bring up points about what they did to myself and Terri, interfering in our decision about end of life. I have points about Bill Frist and Tom DeLay, and comments they made. They never even met Terri, never knew Terri. Rick Santorum, who drove down on the campaign trail to raise money for Terri's hospice, stood outside and made comments and never even met my wife Terri."

Ah, Rick Santorum.

Schiavo's invoking of Santorum's name raises an interesting question: To what extent will he seek to influence the outcome of that and the other hotly contested Pennsylvania races?

"Casey agrees also that government should run your life, should be involved with that. I'll play some role in that race, campaigning and reminding people what both gentlemen did. Both are wrong; neither one of the gentlemen are good for us. We need to find another path."

I asked Sen. Santorum about the prospect of Schiavo campaigning against him.

"He went into Connecticut, and he could go into every single member of the U.S. Senate who was in office the last couple of years and do the same thing because my vote was no different than every other member of the... Senate because it was a unanimous decision...

"So if Michael Schiavo wants to... campaign against every other incumbent U.S. senator, he's free to do so, and that's all I have to say about it."

And what does Schiavo have to say about the congressional races in our area?: "I will be there for anyone who needs my support. If they are good and the believe politics do not play a part in any of our personal or private affairs - I will be there to support them whether they are Democrats or Republicans."

So far, he told me, no one has invited him.

Says political consultant Larry Ceisler: "I am not surprised at all. Michael Schiavo is radioactive. But at the same time, if I was running a campaign against Santorum, I wouldn't mind if he showed up in town, and I'd be snickering in the back of the room."

Michael Schiavo was a Republican until last year, when he joined the Democrats. I wondered what had initially drawn him to the Republican Party given that the GOP standard-bearer interrupted his summer vacation to return to Washington in his PJs just to get involved in the Schiavo case.

"I believed in what they were doing at the time, and I went with it. Now doing what they've done to me, the Republicans started this - the Republicans did this. I don't want to be on that team. They started the fight, not me.

"Whatever your choice is, it is your own personal choice. There should not be another American, another government, telling you that you are wrong. I might have my belief but I have no right to impose it or throw it on somebody else who doesn't believe in what I do."

Apart from the issue that now defines him publicly, the nursing supervisor told me he is "mostly conservative."

"I'm a live-and-let-live guy," he said, which I am sure some will find ironic.

Michael Smerconish is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News and the author of Muzzled. He can be heard weekdays 5:30-9 a.m. on 1210/AM in Philadelphia. Contact him via www.mastalk.com.

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