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Bush appearance signals significance of '06 Senate race

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum's re-election campaign, already cast as 2006's premier Senate race, shows no signs of disappointing.

President Bush plans to help raise as much as $1 million at a June 14 fund-raiser for Santorum that will be among the president's first efforts for next year's elections.

"It shows the Republican Party is going to do what it needs to return Rick to the United States Senate," said Victor Stabile, the Cumberland County Republican chairman who received one of 7,500 invitations.

The luncheon at the Montgomery County home of Mitchell L. Morgan kicks off a parade of celebrities and political leaders expected to traipse through the state to support Santorum or state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr., his anticipated Democratic challenger. Casey faces opposition in the primary from Chuck Pennacchio, a Philadelphia college professor...

Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, two of the GOP's most popular figures, have offered to campaign for Santorum.

Santorum, who was in Las Vegas on a joint fund-raiser and charity golf tournament last week, has estimated the election could cost as much as $25 million.

Jay Reiff, Casey's campaign manager, downplayed the significance of Bush's visit, describing it as payback.

"The president feels he owes him," Reiff said. "Senator Santorum has been a loyal soldier for the president's agenda, even if the voters of Pennsylvania disagree with him," he said.

With polls showing Santorum vulnerable, Democrats and liberal groups have made his defeat their top priority next year. Democrats see the Pennsylvania election as an opportunity to exact retribution for Republicans' defeat of former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota last year...

He ... has become a lightning rod for Democrats' criticism because of his blunt talk and take-no-prisoners style.

His support for issues such as Bush's plan to add investment accounts to Social Security and his high profile in the case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman whose feeding tube was removed, have hurt his public support.

A Quinnipiac University poll showed Santorum trailing Casey by 14 percentage points in April.

Brabender said the Bush event will be a good test to see how motivated and excited Republicans are about re-electing Santorum, although independent analysts and party officials say Santorum's support among Republicans is not his biggest issue.  They say he needs to maintain the support of conservative Democrats, who may see Casey as a viable alternative, as well as independent voters and moderate Republicans in areas such as the Philadelphia suburbs.

Santorum starts the campaign with an enormous financial edge over Casey.  Santorum raised about $2 million between January and March.

Casey raised about $90,000 through March, but Casey announced his campaign only three weeks before the campaign finance deadline.

The Bush event will cost $250 per person and $10,000 for a picture with Bush.

Proceeds will be split with the Republican State Committee's Victory Fund, which is used to help federal candidates...

Morgan, the event host, is president of a real estate investment and development company that owns and manages communities with 17,000 apartments.

By Brett Lieberman, The Patriot News, Jun 5, 2005

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