SCRANTON, Pa., Nov. 8 (JTA) — Democrat Bob Casey led in the polls virtually from the moment that he announced his candidacy to unseat Sen. Rick Santorum some 20 months ago. Nevertheless, analysts argued that the Republican — a skilled debater and a fierce campaigner — would find a way to close the gap and take the contest to the distance. But in the end, the obstacles facing Republicans nationwide — ranging from the unpopularity of President Bush and the war in Iraq to a series of scandals embroiling incumbents — as well as Santorum’s own combative style, proved too much to overcome as Pennsylvania voters handed Casey a victory by an early-round knockout. Casey — a socially conservative Democrat who opposes abortion, gun-control laws and gay marriage — will join the moderate Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who is pro-choice, to represent Pennsylvania in the upper chamber. Santorum — a two-term incumbent who stood to become the second most powerful politician in the Senate if both he and the GOP prevailed — moved rightward during his second term, becoming more closely associated with the Christian right and alienating many voters with controversial comments about women, gays and immigrants. His 2005 book, “It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good,” proved controversial, arguing that mothers are better off out of the workforce and at home raising children. Still, the 48-year-old senator had also become known among pro-Israel advocates as one of the Jewish state’s staunchest defenders in Congress, as well as an articulate voice about the dangers posed by radical Islam and a potential nuclear Iran. Many of Casey’s supporters stated that the Democrat from Scranton would be just as forceful an advocate for Israel, and that on the bulk of issues, he was more in line with the Jewish community than his contender. Once Casey took the podium as a victor, the crowd continued to cheer as if were the start of a rock concert, but soon the roar quieted as Casey reiterated the core themes of his stump speeches, including the need to raise the minimum wage, create better access to health care and find a way out of the quagmire in Iraq. “What we must do together as Pennsylvanians and Americans is not going to be easy, it’s not going to be a smooth path, but we have to chart a new course for all of America,” he said. Casey’s speech called for a new direction in America, and spent a good bit of time addressing Iraq, as well as promising that his victory not lead to an end on the war on terror, using a term eschewed by Santorum, who consistently referred to America’s broadest foreign-policy and domestic-security challenge as a war against Islamo-fascism. Betsy Sheerr, an adviser to the campaign who had traveled to Israel with Casey and serves on the board of trustees for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, was enthusiastic. “Israel won big tonight, as did the U.S.-Israel relationship,” declared Sheerr, adding that she respected Santorum’s eloquent warnings about the dangers posed by radical Islam and the Iranian regime, but felt that he had crossed a line by arguing that only he could work to protect Americans from such threats. “Sen. Santorum has gone too far in his fear-mongering,” added Sheerr, who also sits on the board of directors of JTA. Barton Hertzbach, a Philadelphia lawyer who also serves on his federation’s board, noted that he normally votes Republican, but felt that Santorum had become too extreme in his politics. “Casey will not be a divider; he’s not an idealogue,” asserted Hertzbach. An hour or so before Casey took the podium, Swarthmore resident Eve Klothen could barely contain her excitement, as she camped out in front of one of the larger television monitors, following the nationwide returns. “I really care about this race; this is critical for the country,” said Klothen, also among the cadre of Jewish backers who traveled to Israel with Casey. “There couldn’t be a better friend to Israel. You could just see it — he felt it in his soul.” While pundits will debate the national implications of the mid-term elections for days and weeks to come, Robin Kolodny, associate professor of political science at Temple University, argued that the race illustrated a definitive truth about Pennsylvania statewide politics. Mainly, Pennsylvania is a moderate swing state, and moderates are more likely to enjoy continued success than staunch liberals or conservatives. “I would watch how closely Bob Casey’s voting record is going to match Arlen Specter’s,” said Kolodny, reached late Tuesday night. “Specter is a pragmatic politician,” and Casey will work to be perceived in a similar vein. Summarizing voters attitudes toward the senator-elect, Kolodny said that “Casey doesn’t seem like a risky proposition for people.”
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