After reading from A Time to Run: A Novel, Boxer took questions from the more than 100-strong audience at a meeting of the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs, held at the Gladwyne home of Harold and Renée Rosenbluth.
"Right here, you have a hell of a race, which is a national race," Boxer said after chastising a participant for thinking too heavily about who Democrats will back for president in 2008. Attention should be paid, she insisted, to the 2006 race between Santorum, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, and his likely Democratic challenger, state Treasurer Bob Casey.
"We need to back this man," stressed Boxer, urging the crowd to dig deep in their wallets for Casey, whose own finance guys were working the room minutes before. "I've met him, and I'm thrilled with him."
It wasn't Boxer's comments that seemed strange; it was the receptiveness of the audience that struck a chord with political analysts. The Joint Action Committee – a mainly Jewish nonpartisan political-action committee that backs pro-choice, pro-Israel and pro-separation of church and state candidates – was essentially being asked to weigh in on a race pitting an anti-abortion Republican against an anti-abortion Democrat.
Not a Perfect 10
To be sure, officials emphasized that the organization was not officially getting involved in the Santorum/Casey matchup. Nonetheless, Betsy Sheerr, a past president of the group, urged attendees to turn out for a Dec. 19 "Women for Casey" gig.
JACPAC is "not supporting him," she said. "But many of us are bundling checks for him."
Boxer was quite candid when she summed up the race: "We know our candidate isn't a perfect 10. He's a nine, and we'll take it. Santorum is a minus two."
Casey's support of family planning and emergency contraception, she added, won the day.
According to Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with the nonpartisan "Cook Political Report" in Washington, D.C., Boxer's statements reflected political calculations. Democrats need all the help they can get to win back the Senate.
"This is the marquee race in 2006," said Duffy, pointing to Santorum's leadership status and polls showing him trailing Casey. "We hear all kinds of stories of people who are telling donors, 'Hey, he's not with you on all the issues, but he's running against Rick Santorum."
Jeff Jubelirer, a GOP-leaning political consultant in Philadelphia, said the idea of pro-choice donors and activists organizing for an anti-abortion candidate underscored the importance of a race that could well be the most expensive in the country.
"It tells us that the dislike of Sen. Santorum is more important and more intense than their dislike of candidate Casey's positions," said Jubelirer. "For a group who holds Israel as a major issue, you could argue that no one has been a stronger fighter for Israel than Santorum."
Sheerr explained that Casey was seen as equally strong on Israel as Santorum. "A lot of people start out with, 'Anybody but Santorum,' " she said. "And a lot of people are troubled that the Democratic Party hasn't put up a solidly pro-choice candidate. But the American Jewish community is very pragmatic."