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Casey At Bat

Is the Democrat striking out?

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I'm beginning to get that sinking feeling that tricky Ricky Santorum is going to stage a major comeback — and perhaps pull off a major-league upset. Despite everything. Despite his shameless public display in Florida with Terry Schiavo's parents, pandering to the pro-life crowd who expected a brain-dead woman to leap up and river-dance.

Santorum could come back despite scamming a Pennsylvania school district to get free cyber-school for his home-schooled brood. Tricky Ricky could emerge victorious despite his absurd assertions in his book It Takes a Family that the little woman should stay at home. (You know, if we didn't need two incomes to survive in this Gawdforsaken country, that might be a swell idea.)

It could happen despite his backing Dubya's disastrous plan to begin overturning the New Deal by privatizing Social Security. Despite insulting gays with comparisons to bestiality with his idiotic "man on dog" comments.

This guy could actually win the November election.

Why? Because as a candidate, Democrat Bob Casey sucks. The latest Keystone Poll has Tricky Ricky down by only eight points; the previous Keystone Poll had him down by 14. It's reminiscent of the Casey slide down the loser pole during his 2002 gubernatorial race, when Fast Eddie Rendell started to attack.

Here's what Santorum surrogates are saying about Casey: that he only shows up at his state treasurer's job half the time. You can do that job from out of the office, and he doesn't legally have to show up, but still, it doesn't sound good.

They say Casey has run five statewide campaigns in 10 years, having run for auditor general, treasurer, governor and now senator. Again, it's perfectly legal, but it does sound a little opportunistic.

Santorum's unfortunately talented and creative ad guru John Brabender — who recently moved from Pittsburgh to Alexandria, Va., to be closer to his beloved Tricky Rick and other potential clients — is pouring it on. He's calling Casey a "'60s-style liberal" who wants to "tax and spend."

Casey is principled enough to stand by his pro-life beliefs, despite the majority of his party being pro-choice. Even so, Casey favors family planning, including the morning-after pill. You could say he's smart enough to want to prevent pregnancy, and hence prevent abortions. Brabender says he's trying to have his baby-cake and eat it too.

"Casey's getting a fortune from the trial attorneys," says Brabender. He's in their "hip pocket." Brabender says Casey is "probably one of the dirtiest mudslinger campaigners in Pennsylvania history," and he has no doubt Casey will attack Rick for the Santorum kids' taxpayer-funded cyberschool education. Casey, he says, is enough of a lowlife to attack Rick's kids. "For all I know, they've already done opposition research on the dog," Brabender adds.

Of course, Casey wouldn't be attacking the kids; he'd be attacking Rick for scamming on their behalf. And Santorum himself once attacked a Democratic opponent, Congressman Doug Walgren, for living outside the district — which Santorum hypocritically now does, too. But as I and others have pointed out, the alleged gunslinging mudslinger is the most soft-spoken public figure since Fred Rogers. Except that Casey lacks the charisma.

Casey's staff, at least, is hitting hard. They harp on Santorum's transparent hypocrisy: He calls for senators to quit flying on private corporate jets while continuing to fly them himself. The Casey camp harps on Rick's close ties to the K Street lobbyists, charging that Santorum is in their hip pocket. Or is it the other way around?

They report about Rick's questionable personal spending from a charity he claims not to control — even though he chairs its board. They point out that Rick is supporting Pennsylvania Congressman Don Sherwood, recently accused of choking his mistress.

But I fear it is Casey who is choking. Bobby's got a primary to get through and Rick doesn't. But after that, Casey has got to turn up the heat.

What can boring Bobby do to juice up the troops? How can Mr. Rogers become Mr. Excitement? He's got to show some passion. He's got to get mad. There's a reservoir of anti-GOP sentiment, and we need a little fiery populist rhetoric to tap into it.

Now, whom can we get to ask Rick's dog if he is indeed the dog in the "man on dog" quote? Oppo research, baby — that's what it's all about.

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