Where in the United States can you find a U.S. Senate race which pits an incumbent, pro-life, Catholic Republican senator against a pro-life, Catholic Democrat challenger?
Right here in Pennsylvania! (And, yes, you read correctly, a “pro-life Democrat.”)
Incumbent U. S. Senator Rick Santorum faces a formidable challenge from state treasurer, Bob Casey, Jr., son of the late governor of Pennsylvania, Bob Casey.
This is one of the most closely watched mid-term elections in the United States, and for good reason. With support for the President slipping among the general public, particularly due to misgivings about the war in Iraq, Democrats have a chance.
However, some argue that it is only a slight chance to gain control of either the Senate or the House.
But there is more to this election than partisan control of the Senate and House. It is also a test election to see how Democrats who are both articulate about their faith and more moderate on some hot button social issues might vote while adhering to traditional Democratic views on economic and environmental issues.
Take Casey, for example, who recently delivered the annual Pope John XXIII lecture at Catholic University, saying, “We cannot say we are against abortion of an unborn child and then let our children suffer in degraded inner-city schools and broken homes. We can’t claim to be pro-life at the same time as we are cutting Medicaid or Head Start, and the Women, Infants, and Children’s Program.”
On the website, faithfuldemocrats.com, Casey has placed a seven-page document which describes the relationship between his faith and his political viewpoints.
But not all of his viewpoints fit with traditional Catholic teaching.
While he takes a pro-life position on abortion, he supports the death penalty, a stance that conflicts with the Catholic Church’s position. He doesn’t support gay marriage, but supports same-sex civil unions and does not think the Constitution should be amended to say that marriage is strictly between a man and a woman.
While some might see Casey’s position on homosexuality as nuanced and realistic given the attitudes of many Americans, John Paulton, in the August 2006 issue of Citizen, published by Focus on the Family, describes Casey as “squarely in the camp of the homosexual activists.”
What I like about this race is that it is mixing up political categories, and that is good for American politics. If you have felt that neither political party represents your political viewpoints, you are not alone.
Where do you go if you favor withdrawal from Iraq AND are pro-life? Think there should be more attention to blighted urban areas AND are pro-life? Where do you go?
For some, the answer might be: “I don’t go anywhere-I just don’t participate.”
If that has been your attitude, this election is your opportunity to signal the national parties that they need to reexamine some of their positions if they want to attract voters.
According to recent polls, Casey leads Santorum by about 6-8 percentage points. The Green Party candidate, Carl Romanelli, is polling at 5 percent.
Given the narrow spread between Casey and Santorum, those five percentage points could be important, with the potential to hurt Casey if pro-choice Democrats decide they cannot support him because of his pro-life position.
Pennsylvania has an interesting mix when it comes to politics. In the 2004 election, its 21 electoral votes went to John Kerry, and yet its two U. S. Senators are both Republican. It has a Democratic governor and a Republican-controlled state legislature.
A saying about Pennsylvania’s politics is, “you have Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and Alabama in the middle,” referring to the more conservative, central part of the state.
This year’s U. S. Senate race adds to that interesting mix.
Join the national conversation on November 7. Don’t sit on the sidelines and let others decide for you. Get out and vote.
Dr. Kathryn Lee is the chair of the political science department at Eastern.