Video: The Keystone Race is On

By MSNBC anchor
msnbc.com
updated 2/6/2006 6:37:46 PM ET 2006-02-06T23:37:46

In a part of the country consumed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the year's most bruising political Super Bowl is waiting in the wings. 

Republican lightning rod Senator Rick Santorum and Democratic challenger Bob Casey Jr. are expected to raise and spend more than $50 million in what will be the most expensive race in state history.  Already, the verbal attacks have begun. 

SEN. RICK SANTORUM ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  He's someone who wants to grow the size and scope of government.  I don't believe that's the best way to go. 

BOB CASEY JR., DEMOCRATIC SENATE CANDIDATE:  He's voted time and again for tax cuts for multi-millionaires, most recently even in the time of war. 

SANTORUM:  Bob is a trial lawyer's trial lawyer, and believes in no reform of the medical liability system.  He's someone who wants to destroy our pharmaceutical industry in Pennsylvania. 

CASEY:  He's been on the side for years now.  The oil companies, the big drug companies, the insurance industry—and we know now after a lot of publicity the last couple of weeks, he's been on the side of the K Street lobbyists. 

SHUSTER:  Santorum, who is part of the Senate Republican leadership, is seeking a third term.  He is the top reelection priority for the Bush White House and the number one Senate target for Democrats. 

SANTORUM:  If you didn't matter, if you were someone who was a back bencher who didn't have an impact on what was going on and making a difference here in Washington, obviously, they wouldn't have the bullseye on your back. 

SHUSTER:  Casey is the son of the late Bob Casey, the popular former Pennsylvania governor.  Like his father, Casey is pro-life and supports gun owners.  And he is happy to make this campaign a referendum on President Bush. 

CASEY:  The independence of a U.S. senator is very important.  People don't want you voting one way 98 percent of the time, like Senator Santorum has voted with President Bush.  And we're going to be the candidate who represents that change. 

SHUSTER:  Pennsylvania has long been a microcosm of America.  Its rural population is the second largest in the country, and yet there are urban voters in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.  Political analysts believe the high profile Senate race will be decided by moderate Republicans in the Philadelphia suburbs.  This is a group President Bush lost twice, but Santorum has previously won. 

JAMES O'TOOLE, “PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE”:  If Santorum can hold on to them, he can win this race, but I think right now, the perception of both sides is that he has a substantial deficit there. 

SHUSTER:  The polls have placed Santorum behind Casey by 10 to 15 points.  Last year in his book, “It Takes A Family,” Santorum likened abortion to slavery.  He has compared Democrats to Nazis, spoken of homosexuality and bestiality in the same sentence, and visited Terri Schiavo on her death bed.  Santorum has also been bruised over his regular meetings with Washington lobbying firms.

SANTORUM:  All I've ever done with respect to, quote, “the K Street Project,” is to do what Democrats do, other Republicans do, which is to meet with hobbyists to talk about the issues of the day, and how we're going to try to accomplish public policy here. 

CASEY:  Every explanation that he's provided about the K Street Project, it doesn't pass the hysterical after test. 

SHUSTER:  As for Casey, he has been accused of dodging key issues and avoiding specifics.

The Senate race here in Pennsylvania is not the only campaign battle generating national attention.  A handful of House seats are also considered competitive and then, there is the governor's race. 

The leading Republican challenger is former Pittsburgh Steeler wide receiver Lynn Swann.  He is a member of the Football Hall of Fame and is now surfing Steelers fans' mania. 

O'TOOLE:  And from now until the Super Bowl you're going to see run over an over again his graceful catches he made in winning four Super Bowls for the Steelers.  So, it seems insubstantial, but I think there's no question it helps it image.

SHUSTER:  The Democratic incumbent Governor Ed Rendell is popular with both the Democratic base and with moderate suburban voters.  But it's the Senate race, the national political parties are obsessing over.  Casey has already received fund raising help from Democratic Senators Barack Obama and John Kerry.  Santorum is getting help from President Bush, Vice President Cheney and senator John McCain.  Meanwhile, the candidates are crisscrossing the state, lining up donors and testing out lines of attack in interviews, including ours. 

SANTORUM:  They don't want someone who has no positive message, has no opinion on anything and simply wants to tear down the he opponent.  Pennsylvanians aren't going to settle for that in the end. 

CASEY:  Senator Santorum made his choice.  He is for tax-cuts for multi-millionaires.  I think that should be repealed especially in a time of war and especially with regard to the priorities of health care and the deficit. 

SHUSTER:  Despite the early verbal jabs, the campaigns are still if a relatively quiet fund raising mode, but when the ads go up as early as February or March, that's going to change and this race is going to be nasty. 

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