Video: High stakes for Santorum

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updated 9/6/2006 2:15:02 PM ET 2006-09-06T18:15:02

DAVID GREGORY: With America at war, the stakes simply couldn't be higher in these midterm elections, and one of the states where Democrats hope to win a Republican seat -- a big one -- is in Pennsylvania.  Senator Rick Santorum is facing a tough challenge from State Treasurer Democrat Bob Casey, Jr.

Senator Santorum joins me now from Capitol Hill.  Senator, good to see you.  Welcome.

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R) PENNSYLVANIA:  Good to be here, good to be back at work trying to get some problems solved here before we go in for the fall break. 

GREGORY:  Before you got back to work, you were doing some work this Sunday with Tim Russert on MEET THE PRESS in a debate with your challenger, Bob Casey, Jr.   How did you do? 

SANTORUM:  I just appreciated the opportunity to be on a forum together with my opponent.  He's been running against me for 18 months and he's really avoided talking about the issues, avoided any kind of joint appearances, avoided any kind of public appearances generally.  It's been a rather difficult race to run when you're running against someone who sort of refuses to step out of the shadows and engage in a debate.

And you just said it.  This is one of the most important races in the country and one of the most important times in our country's history, and to have such an important race be fought by surrogates who lob press releases and personal attack after personal attack and not engage on the issues I think is really -- shows a lot of disrespect for the people of Pennsylvania. 

GREGORY:  Senator, let's look at the -- one of the latest polls from USA Today/Gallup.  This is back August 23 through 27, and it shows that you are trailing your opponent 56-38 percent -- trailing pretty badly. 

SANTORUM:  That's a bogus poll.  The last seven polls other than that one had the race five, six or eight points.  You know, we had that -- about two months ago, Rasmussen came out with a poll that had us 20 points down, when all of the other polls had it there, and about a month later, Rasmussen was back with all the other ones. 

This race is close.  This race is a single-digit race.  This race is going to come down to the very end, and I feel very good that we've got the momentum now.  There's a lot of energy and enthusiasm.  I think there was a clear contrast in Sunday's debate between someone who was willing to look you in the camera, tell you what you believe in -- even though you may not agree with me, I have enough respect for the people that I've represented over the last 12 years to let you know what I'm doing, what I'm fighting for, how effective I've been, as opposed to someone like Treasurer Casey, who has -- you know, you couldn't get him to answer -- Russert just had to say to him, you know, Let's get real.  I mean, that's your answer? -- I think he said that at one point.  He refuses to take positions, because if he does, he knows it's the same tired old Democratic positions, and that's just not going to sell in Pennsylvania.

GREGORY:  Senator, you made it very clear on Sunday, as you have in the past, that you think this is a great president -- President Bush has been a great president.  You spoke in support, lock-step support with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld -- as you know, there are calls for his resignation.  You support the policy in Iraq and don't think there have been mistakes in the management of that war.  There's no room between you and President Bush.  Is that right? 

GREGORY:  First off, I didn't say there weren't any mistakes in the management of the war.  Of course there are mistakes in the management of the war.  The president would agree that there have been mistakes.  Everyone understands when you fight a war, the enemy has an opportunity to counter.  And as you know, I've been very clear about the differences I have with the way the president is presenting this war and framing this war -- which I happen to believe is very important for us winning this war because we're not going to win or lose this war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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GREGORY:  But Senator, being so close to the president --

SANTORUM:  We're going to win or lose it here at home. 

GREGORY:  -- are you in danger of being labeled a rubber-stamp Republican? 

SANTORUM:  I think if you look at my record and what I've done for Pennsylvania, and what I've fought -- we didn't talk, unfortunately, on Sunday about immigration.  That's where my opponent agrees with the administration and I very much disagree.  It's a huge issue in the state.  Sort of disappointed Tim didn't bring it up.  But this is a huge issue, where my opponent's for amnesty, my opponent's for the Senate bill which allows people to raid the Social -- which allows legal immigrants to get Social Security benefits for the time that they worked here illegally.  I'm against that, I'm not for illegals being able to get college -- in-state tuition.  He's for that.  There are big differences.  We didn't get a chance to talk about that. 

But yes, I support fighting this war on Islamic fascism.  This is a war we must win. 

GREGORY:  Senator Santorum, we have to leave it there.  Hope we have more time to talk down the road. 

SANTORUM:  Thanks, David, I look forward to it.

GREGORY:  Thanks very much for being here.

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