As TV Spots Air, Race Goes Into Next Phase

For more than six months, State Treasurer Bob Casey has enjoyed a double digit lead in the polls over Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). But the big question has been whether or not that lead would hold once the campaign — and the slew of television spots — shifted into high gear, especially since the Republican incumbent holds a 2-to-1 edge in fundraising.

It's getting to be that time. Late last month, Santorum unveiled the first television advertisement of the campaign season, in which he touts himself as a tough opponent of illegal immigration. On June 28, the Casey campaign answered with its first commercial; in it, the Democratic contender said that he would work to balance the budget, reduce the deficit and put a stop to federal tax cuts initiated by the Republicans.

"To a certain extent, this does begin a new chapter in my campaign," said Casey, who on June 30 also set out on his first major bus tour as a Senate candidate.

Defining His Agenda

Reached on the road, Casey, known by many simply as a pro-life Democrat, sought to differentiate himself from Santorum, and further define his own agenda. High on the list of priorities is comprehensive immigration reform, an issue that took center stage this past spring.

Casey said the bill passed by the Senate in May — it would create a guest worker program, and perhaps put as many as 12 million undocumented immigrants on the path to becoming citizens — didn't go far enough to improve border security, but he probably would have voted for it anyway.

"It's a very important issue to Pennsylvania, even when the numbers aren't as high as some states," said Casey. "Sen. Santorum wants to try and deport 11 or 12 million people."

When asked if this reflected the senator's position, Santorum campaign spokeswoman Virginia Davis replied that "he believes fundamentally that those coming into this country illegally should not be rewarded."

"Sen. Santorum opposed that legislation," she added.

The house earlier passed a far different bill that would make entering the country illegally a felony; it remains to be seen how the competing bills will be resolved in conference.

In addressing the senate's two recent attempts to amend the Constitution, Casey said that he would have supported the ban on flag-burning, but would prefer if the issue were handled through state and federal statutes. He also said that he supports some kind of civil unions, but is opposed to gay marriage.

However, he doesn't believe a constitutional amendment is needed to prevent gay marriage from becoming the law of the land. Santorum voted in favor of both proposals.

While Casey's not shy about criticizing his opponent or the Bush White House, he steered clear of doing so while discussing the relationship between the American and Israeli governments. He said that the administration needs to continue on its course of allowing the Jewish state to protect its citizens.

"We have to not try and second-guess what the Israelis are facing," said Casey, who last year visited for the first time. "It's very hard for Americans to comprehend what Israelis are facing every day. I'm very confident that when Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert makes a decision, he does so based upon fact."

According to news reports, after returning from Israel in December, Casey was noncommittal about supporting a move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something Santorum has long championed.

Apparently, he has since solidified an argument. "It is a very important priority for our government to make sure the embassy is moved," he said, when asked to clarify his position. "It has been a priority of the federal government for some time."



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