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Santorum not discouraged by poll numbers

Sen. Rick Santorum said Friday he is not discouraged by poll numbers that show him trailing state Treasurer Robert Casey Jr. in his 2006 Senate bid, and he expects to remain behind until early next year.

Casey, the son of late governor Robert Casey who is widely considered the Democratic front-runner, is running on name recognition and has offered few clues as to what he stands for and what he would do if elected, Santorum said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"Until the campaign really starts (and) the people get to see both candidates, hear what they have to say ... up until that time my feeling is, I'm just going to keep doing my job and we're trying to build as strong of a campaign as we can so we're ready for next year," said Santorum, R-Pa.

A Keystone Poll released Friday showed Casey with 50 percent - a gain of 6 percentage points since a similar poll in June - and Santorum unchanged at 37 percent. The survey had a sampling margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

The poll was commissioned by several news organizations.

The race is on the national radar, and is expected to be one the closest Senate races in 2006. The two candidates expect to raise a combined $50 million.

Santorum, who is the third-ranking Senate GOP leader, emphasized during the hour-long interview that he has proven he can deliver for Pennsylvania and that he will accomplish even more in a third term because of his prominence in the national party.

Casey "happens to have a name that's a fairly popular name here, and he is someone who has taken very few positions on issues, does very few public appearances," Santorum said. "Most people don't know where he stands or why he stands there."

Casey's campaign manager, Jay Reiff, called Santorum's comments a lie. He said Casey has raised questions about the Iraq war and offered plans on issues such as health care.

"The real reason Rick Santorum is behind is because voters are getting to know what he's really about, and he's starting to be held accountable by our campaign for his words and actions," Reiff said.

Even with President Bush's approval rating at the lowest point of his administration, Santorum said he would invite him to Pennsylvania to do more fund-raisers for his campaign.

"I think this campaign will be a high enough visibility campaign that who supports me or who supports my opponent is not going to make any difference," Santorum said.

The senator continued to defend the war in Iraq and push for Social Security reforms - two issues on which he has supported the president. He acknowledged the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina was lacking and should be reviewed, but he cautioned against overreacting because of the unique nature of the situation in Louisiana.

Santorum, whose book "It Takes a Family" was criticized by Democrats because it compares abortion rights to slaveholder rights and blames feminists for undermining motherhood, said he does not make apologies for his personal style.

"If `outrageous' means I say what I believe, and I try to be accountable to the people of Pennsylvania, guilty," Santorum said. "I think it's a sad commentary that being accountable, forthright and honest with your constituents is considered controversial."

Casey, 45, faces two lesser-known opponents in next spring's Democratic primary - University of the Arts professor Chuck Pennacchio and Philadelphia pension lawyer Alan Sandals.

In the GOP primary, Santorum faces opposition from Philadelphia real-estate broker John Featherman, who was the Libertarian Party's nominee against Santorum in 2000.

Casey has run in four statewide elections since 1996 and lost one, the 2002 gubernatorial primary.

On Friday, nearly 500 unionized health care workers rallied outside Santorum's Harrisburg office, urging him to help working families by making health care more affordable and increasing the minimum wage.

Casey, who has enjoyed strong support from organized labor in his past campaigns, also picked up an endorsement from the state AFL-CIO.

Associated Press Writers Peter Jackson, Mark Scolforo and Martha Raffaele contributed to this report.

By Kimberly Hefling, Times Leader, Sep 16, 2005

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