Robert Novak

This is the arithmetic in the Senate, where a vetoed bill will go first. It would take 33 senators to sustain a Bush veto, if ailing Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson (S.D.) is unable to vote. Of the 36 Republicans who voted against the Castle bill, five were defeated for re-election: Santorum, George Allen in Virginia, Conrad Burns in Montana, Mike DeWine in Ohio and James Talent in Missouri. Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) was the only Senate Democrat who voted no last year, and that means one more Democrat would be needed this year. Casey's vote could be central.

The House sustained last year's veto by a 50-vote margin. Thirteen of those members were defeated in November. So, even if there are Republican defections, the burden will not fall on seven avowedly pro-life Democrats newly elected to the House: Heath Shuler (N.C.), Charlie Wilson (Ohio), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Brad Ellsworth (Ind.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Jason Altmire (Pa.) and Chris Carney (Pa.).

With Speaker Nancy Pelosi putting this legislation on her 100-hour list, these pro-life House Democrats, nevertheless, will be under intense pressure, as will Nelson, Sen. Jon Tester, a pro-lifer who defeated Burns in Montana last year, and Bobby Casey.

Casey was embraced by pro-choice Democrats -- led by Sen. Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, as the best bet against Santorum. But they may not have bargained on Casey opposing them on the central party issue of stem cell research. The question of how much of a pro-lifer Casey is or can be in the 21st-century Democratic Party may be answered soon.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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