Word was coming late Wednesday that Pennsylvania State Treasurer Bob Casey, Jr. was prepared to announce as early as Thursday or more likely Friday that he will throw his hat into the ring to challenge Sen. Rick Santorum in 2006. Casey has been actively recruited by both Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Charles Schumer.
Casey, a pro-life Catholic, is viewed by the Democrats as the strongest candidate they could field against the conservative Catholic Santorum. Schumer and Reid, according to Democratic Senate staffers, have both reached out to Casey in the past week and before that were checking in regularly, gauging his interest and trying to persuade him to run.
Schumer has gone so far as to promise to clear the field for Casey, which would allow Casey to focus during the primary season on reaching out to undecideds and firming up his Democratic base. It would also allow him to save hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars for the general election.
But Schumer may not be able to keep that promise. Given Casey’s Catholicism and well-documented pro-life positions — which he shares with his revered late father, Gov. Bob Casey — a number of longstanding Democratic organizations plan to oppose Casey and to finance their own candidate in the Democratic primary.
EMILY’s List and the National Organization for Women have been looking for a pro-abortion candidate that they could put forward. Both organizations have in the past been closely aligned with Schumer, and thus far the man from New York has been sidestepping a confrontation. “He’s going to have to face these folks down, and deal with his recruitment of Casey at some point,” says a DSCC staffer. “But across the board Democrats know that Casey makes Santorum that much more vulnerable in 2006.”
Santorum, though, has been anticipating a tough campaign from the beginning — Democrats had targeted him six months ago as a vulnerable incumbent. Casey will have better name recognition than many incumbent challengers, and Schumer and the national party will make sure that he is well-financed.
But millions of dollars won’t buy Casey the kind of energy and personality that Santorum shows on the campaign trail, and that is why Santorum remains a strong incumbent in an election cycle that may see Republicans gain perhaps three additional Senate seats.