Casey, who so far has agreed to only one debate, and that one to occur before Labor Day, is trying to make this election a referendum on the incumbent. On two incumbents, actually, the other being President Bush, whose job approval among Pennsylvanians, in a poll taken immediately after the killing of Zarqawi, was 34 percent. Casey's mantra is that Santorum has voted ``98 percent of the time'' with the president. One of Santorum's counterpunches is that Casey agrees with the president in supporting the Senate's stance on immigration, whereas Santorum supports the House's ``enforcement'' first approach.
In recent presidential elections, Pennsylvania has been a steadily lighter shade of blue. In 1996, President Clinton carried it by 9.2 points. In 2000, Gore won by 4.2. In 2004, Kerry won by just 2.5.
About 40 percent of Pennsylvania's votes are cast in the southeast -- greater Philadelphia. If Kerry had received there the number of votes Gore got in 2000, instead of 280,000 more, Bush would have carried the state easily. Gov. Ed Rendell, Philadelphia's former two-term mayor, is on the ballot this year seeking a second term. He was regularly on that region's television newscasts for eight years. The suburbs contain a lot of voters who liked what they saw -- by cleaning the city's center, a Santorum aide says, Rendell ``ran the city for the suburbs'' -- and they relish voting for him, which will swell the turnout, to Casey's advantage. In the 2002 gubernatorial primary, running against Casey, Rendell received an astonishing 88 percent of the vote in populous Montgomery County. Santorum's social conservatism is a difficult sell there. Within Philadelphia, what are delicately called voting ``irregularities'' will probably be, the Santorum aide says laconically, ``less than usual,'' thanks to a bill the Legislature passed after Rendell vetoed a better bill.
Santorum receives rocky treatment from much of the state's media. He says that one journalist called the campaign with a single question -- ``Has Santorum ever met with a lobbyist?'' -- and that in 2000 the Philadelphia Daily News endorsed his opponent three times.
Still, Santorum is what Casey is not -- an enthusiastic, powerful campaigner. This race will tighten and around 11 p.m. November 7, might decide who controls the Senate in January 2007.