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Casing Casey Chances

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Democratic state Sen. Jim Ferlo isn't backing Rick Santorum in his bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate.

 

That's not exactly news to anyone remotely familiar with the Lawrenceville legislator. But Ferlo wants to make sure that fact is clear ... despite a recent e-mail he sent to Santorum's likely Democratic challenger, Bob Casey.

 

In the e-mail, copied to about two dozen left-activists involved in everything from anti-war marches to health-care reform and labor issues, Ferlo offers Casey unsolicited advice about how not to lose the November election.

 

"There's the old saying if you don't stand for something ... you'll fall for anything," says Ferlo's letter. "Unless you energize the Democratic base of our Party you may not win. If you run the traditional campaign of only expending your campaign dollars on paid commercial[s] and p.r., and don't commit some resources to the grassroots efforts, you will not herald in a [former U.S. Sen. Harris] 'Wofford' like victory (the first time he ran). If you are supporting the continuation of the [Iraq] War and the President's policy you may not win."

 

Ferlo also advises Casey to support "a national single payer health plan or reasonable alternative," and to "speak out" against the Medicare Part D program, "the wasteful spending priorities of the federal government," and the machinations of Bush Administration stalwart Karl Rove.

 

He also advises the anti-abortion Democrat: "I hope that you will explain, defend and urge people to accept your strong religious views on the sensitive issue of abortion, but you should also make it equally clear that choice and free will and health and personal responsibility regarding the difficult decision a woman makes on this issue is highly personal, and the law of the land should protect established law and civil rights on this matter.

"There is no visible W. Pa. vitality in your current campaign or its effort," Ferlo concludes. "I am willing to help when ever called upon."

 

Casey has taken considerable criticism from his two primary opponents and from some core constituency groups ... especially women's groups ... for being "Santorum lite" and for not clearly taking a stand on issues like the war in Iraq. He has also been criticized for being against gay marriage, although he is in favor of civil unions, and chided for saying he would have voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

 

Poll numbers may bear out Ferlo's fear that Santorum could take Democratic votes from Casey. In a February Keystone Poll, Casey led Santorum by an 11-point margin. In the most recent poll released earlier in May, Casey's lead had slipped to six points. The big shift, according to poll data, is an increase in Casey's unfavorable rating from eight percent to 13 percent.

In response to Ferlo's letter, Vanessa DeSalvo Getz, Casey's Western Pennsylvania campaign manager, writes that she disagrees with Ferlo's assessment of Casey's campaign efforts to date:

 

"From the day he got into the race, Bob has sought to hold Bush and Santorum accountable for their failed policies and to offer alternatives of his own. Bob does not support the Bush policy in Iraq. He has repeatedly said the president misled the American people and that Santorum has done nothing to influence administration policy or hold Bush and [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld accountable. Bob's proposed a health-care coverage plan that will make significant progress toward increasing the number of uninsured. And he's pointed out Santorum's indifference to the health-care crisis.

 

"We can only win if we work together," she concludes. 

 

One recipient of the Ferlo e-mail ... Pete Shell, who heads the Anti-War Committee of the Garfield-based Thomas Merton Center ... agrees that he hasn't heard Casey speak out against the war, or the amount of money spent on the war effort.

 

"I think Jim Ferlo is right that if Mr. Casey doesn't come out firmly against the war and speak clearly about other issues, he may not win," Shell says. "He needs to be very principled and positive and show that he cares about the erosion of our civil liberties."

 

Scilla Wahrhaftig, the Pittsburgh representative for the anti-war American Friends Service Committee, also received Ferlo's e-mail and says she agrees with his assessment.

"I'm really disturbed that it looks like we are once again going to be asked to vote on a negative position just because we're trying to defeat someone else," she says. "I want to vote for someone because I believe in them and, unfortunately, I haven't been able to do that for a very long time."

 

Ferlo insists that he still believes in Casey. "I am emphatically and explicitly a worker, supporter and voter for Bob Casey now and in the future," he explains. "What I'm reflecting more in the e-mail is a nature and energy in his campaign that needs to unfold this summer and leading into the fall. He must develop some sense of ownership of important issues in this campaign because he's not going to win by simply saying, 'I'm not Rick Santorum.' John Kerry tried that strategy with George Bush and it didn't work.

 

"It's going to take more than raising money to win this election," Ferlo concludes. "You can be sure that Santorum will use the Swift Boat groups of the world to try and focus on these wedge issues as November approaches."

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