"It's early, and I've got to continue the hard work I've been doing since March 2005 to win people's votes," said Casey. "The polling is one thing, but I sense also from talking to people that they're really ready to vote for change."
Specifically, Casey referred to a growing discontent he observed among voters, who he said were fed up with a Republican-controlled White House and Congress. Besides just blaming President Bush and Santorum for a bungled foreign policy, the Democrat said that average Pennsylvanians are seeing "their wages and income going down, while at the same time their health-care and energy costs are going up."
Republicans have failed, he concluded, because their style of government is "all about a continual, maniacal focus on giving the top 1 percent of millionaires a tax cut."
Standing in Casey's way is Santorum, 47, a two-term senator from Pittsburgh who as chair of the Senate Republican Conference is the chamber's third-ranking GOP member.
With that incumbency and leadership position comes the ability to raise copious amounts of cash, a resource Santorum pledged to use prodigiously.
"It's going great," said the senator of his campaign. "We've got a team of at least 10,000 volunteers who have stepped up to help. We're putting together an effort that I think will be pretty strong this fall."
According to the most recent federal financial disclosures, Casey – a Scranton native elected to his current statewide office in 2002 – had raised $5.9 million to Santorum's $10.2 million through the end of last year. National party involvement in the race could see each figure climb in excess of $20 million.
Chief among messages Santorum said he plans to broadcast with those funds is that any Democrat, and especially Casey, would not act in America's best interests abroad.
"Certainly, foreign policy will be a big issue in this race," he said before turning to the three-year-old war in Iraq. "The Democratic Party has become the party of cut-and-run. It won't stand up to Islamic fundamentalism."
On the domestic front, Santorum criticized Casey, a one-time trial lawyer, for saying he'd lower health costs at a time when fraudulent lawsuits are driving up doctors' medical malpractice fees.
"He believes you can litigate yourself to greatness," said Santorum, who holds a law degree, but has mainly worked in government. "Our litigation costs are sapping our system."
Two Democrats are challenging Casey for the Democratic spot on the ballot: Philadelphia attorney Alan Sandals and professor Chuck Pennachio. Sandals scored a high-profile endorsement with the approval of the National Organization of Women, but neither candidate is expected to pose a serious threat.
Sandals cautioned Democrats to think twice about voting for the 44-year-old Casey, who, like Santorum, is against abortion.
"Anecdotally, from my own experience, there are a number of men and women who have said the last thing they'll do is vote for Casey," said Sandals, who questioned the strategy of running a pro-life Democrat. "Santorum has been polling badly. Any credible Democrat with the right message can beat him."
With a considerable amount of time until November, Republicans nationwide will do everything they can to keep Santorum in the driver's seat.
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