Pa. Senate Candidates Face Off

Pennsylvania’s junior senator, Republican Rick Santorum, is fighting for his political life. After narrowing the lead of Democratic challenger, state treasurer Bob Casey, to single-digits in August, Santorum was hopeful that a post-Labor Day boost would carry him to a third term. But polls now show Casey's lead back near double digits. And a judge’s recent decision to disqualify the Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli from the race didn’t help Santorum, who had hoped the third-party candidate would siphon liberal votes away from the moderate Casey. If Santorum goes down, President Bush will lose one of his most consistent and conservative allies in the Senate. Since 2001, he’s voted in support of the president 97 percent of the time, according to Congressional Quarterly.

For his part, Casey seems to be biding his time, sitting on the lead he’s had since entering the race last year at the behest of Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Harry Reid of Nevada, following his failed bid for Pennsylvania governor. As part of NEWSWEEK’s ongoing Face Off series profiling the midterm’s most competitive races, Matthew Philips engaged in an e-mail exchange with both Santorum and Casey.

Republican Sen. Rick Santorum

NEWSWEEK: Are you concerned about the Congressional balance of power shifting to the Democrats in this election?

Sen. Rick Santorum: It’s definitely a concern. I look at what happened in Connecticut with Ned Lamont beating Joe Lieberman, and I think it’s a frightening warning for our country. Do we want to elect people like Ned Lamont and Bob Casey, who are weak on national security and only a machine for the Democratic talking points? I don’t think Pennsylvanians want that.

You’ve called for the United States to take a tougher stand on Iran. In what way?

Iran is the single gravest threat to the United States. I strongly believe that one of the biggest problems in Iraq is that Iran has an enormous presence there. We must address this threat now, and one of the ways I believe we should do that is through my Iran Freedom and Support Act, which is the only public policy document that lays out a plan for dealing with Iran short of military intervention.

Does North Korea’s alleged nuclear bomb testing change your views about who’s a bigger threat?

North Korea’s threatening behavior will not be tolerated by the United States. North Korea is not only exploring missile technology, but also transferring it to Iran and possibly Syria. These actions cause great concern. This is no time for inexperienced, weak leaders—we must remain resolute in the fight to stop the spread of nuclear weapons to rogue nations.

Could more have been done to address this threat before we invaded Iraq?

Based on the intelligence that we and other nations had at the time, Iraq, under the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein, posed a serious and imminent threat to our national security and the security of the Middle East. Now that we have deposed Saddam and are bringing him to justice, we need to take a closer look at other threats in the Middle East, and I believe Iran poses the next big threat to our national security.

Do you believe we should be talking to Syria about possible future diplomatic solutions to ending the war in Iraq?

I have long recognized the threat of Syria to the Middle East and to the world. That’s why I co-authored the Syria Accountability Act of 2003, which the president signed into law in December 2003. The legislation gives the president tools in the form of sanctions to hold Syria accountable for its support of terrorism, thwarting our efforts in Iraq, occupation of Lebanon, and possession and continued development of weapons of mass destruction. Syria continues to harbor and support terrorists and I do not think it is possible to negotiate or cooperate with their fascist regime.

Do you believe we’ve made mistakes in the war on Iraq?

I think one of the greatest flaws in the administration’s execution of the war is that they have failed to lay out for the American people the reasons why we are in this war. This isn’t just about Iraq. This is the larger threat of Islamic fascism and a critical component to defeating Islamic fascists is by being victorious in Iraq. It is critical that the administration lay that out so the American people understand who our enemy is and why we are fighting it.

Why do you think the administration failed to adequately explain the reasons we are in this war? Were WMD over-emphasized?

My criticism of the administration revolves mainly around their characterization of this conflict. By calling it the “global war on terror,” the president has failed to properly define our enemy. I also believe we need to be clear that by fighting our enemies on the battlefields and streets of Iraq, we are keeping them focused thousands of miles from the streets of America. It is not a coincidence that since we have been in Iraq, there have been no successful attacks on American soil.

Do you believe the American people are losing their resolve for the war on terror?

Yes, unfortunately, I do. And I think it’s due to two things. First of all, the media’s focus is only on death and the setbacks we are experiencing. Every life is precious and we should absolutely report on the loss of our heroic men and women, but to only report on the last chapter of their life is a disservice to their sacrifice. Our men and women in uniform are doing incredible things to bring stability to that country, and the media has a responsibility to tell the American people the full story of our efforts in Iraq. I also believe that the American people don’t fully understand the enemy that we fight. We aren’t fighting a war on terror. This is no more a war on terror than World War II was a war on blitzkrieg. Blitzkrieg is a tactic; it’s not our enemy. Terror is a tactic; it is not our enemy. Our enemy is people who have an ideology, and we need to focus our attention as Americans to understand that the ideology and the tactics are both important, but the foundation is the ideology.

What are your thoughts on the National Intelligence Estimate’s findings that the war in Iraq is fueling the global jihadist movement?

Those who oppose taking the fight to the terrorists selectively picked from the NIE to justify their views.

We’re less than a month away from Election Day and all the polls show you trailing. How worried are you that your 12-year career in the Senate is about to end?

I am not worried about the polls. We continue to feel momentum on our side. I have always run as the underdog, and believe that as more Pennsylvanians learn about the contrasts between me and my opponent on issues like immigration, national security and taxes, they will recognize who the stronger choice is.

You’ve recently put out a booklet called, “50 Things You May Not Know about Rick Santorum.” What’s something I may not know about you?

One of the things that I have been extremely active on, that very few people know about is my work to eradicate global AIDS. I worked to increase funding by over $800 million for this initiative because I think it is critically important that the U.S. play a role in eradicating this pandemic.

Considering President Bush’s low approval ratings, do you think your reputation as being in lockstep with him on most issues is hurting you?

I take issue with your phrase "lockstep." Sure, I agree with President Bush much of the time. He and I share a commitment to ensuring the security of this country, and when I agree with the president I say so. But I speak out just as vocally when I disagree with the president. On an issue like immigration, for example, my opponent agrees with the president and supports the Senate’s immigration bill that offers amnesty to illegal immigrants. But regardless, I don’t think that the president’s approval rating will ultimately impact my race.

Were you surprised by the details that have emerged from the Mark Foley situation?

I was deeply saddened to hear about the disgusting behavior of former Congressman Foley. It is extremely disturbing that someone who these young adults looked to as a role model would take advantage of them in such a terrible way. I support a thorough investigation into this matter.

Democratic Challenger Bob Casey

NEWSWEEK: Your opponent has outspent you by more than $6 million, yet you’ve maintained a lead in the polls throughout this campaign. Why do you think that is?

Bob Casey: Pennsylvanians are tired of having a politician in Congress loyal to big corporations instead of hard-working families, and are tired of having a rubber-stamp senator who’s voted for George Bush [97] percent of the time. I have a record that shows a proven commitment to Pennsylvania and working families. My record and my new direction contrasts well with Rick Santorum’s loyalty to President Bush and his call for more of the same.

Sen. Santorum seems to want to debate you at every turn. Why are you not taking him up on it?

We have debated. Rick Santorum is more interested in debates in order to distract voters from his horrible voting record and his lack of new ideas and vision.

You’ve said that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should resign. Who would you like to see replace him?

Any number of people would be an improvement. [Recently] on “Meet the Press,” Santorum said that Rumsfeld is doing a fine job as Defense Secretary. Reminds me of when Bush told former-FEMA head Michael Brown, “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.”

Your opponent has called for a tougher stance on Iran. Do you agree?

Yes. The Bush administration has done very little about Iran and North Korea, and one of our top priorities must be preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

Does North Korea present a bigger, more pressing threat than Iran?

They are both threats. However, only one of them has nuclear material. The increased aggression by North Korea must be denounced and swiftly addressed to prevent further proliferation. In the past five years, North Korea has increased their nuclear stockpile, tested missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and now they have detonated a nuclear device.

Do you believe that the American people are losing their resolve for the war on terror?

No. More needs to be done because Congress and the president have failed to implement all of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, and the hunt for Osama bin Laden has gone cold. This is unacceptable. We must do more to protect Americans from a future terrorist attack, and we must hunt down terrorists wherever they may be. Americans are united in this effort. It is unfortunate that Republicans and Santorum have exploited terrorism for their own crass political purposes.

So what’s the most crucial of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations yet to be implemented?

You can’t pick one of the recommendations that are more important than the others. The purpose of the 9/11 Commission was to assess and make recommendations on improvements to make us safer and prevent another attack like those on September 11. Congress should pass all of the 9/11 Commission recommendations.

What are your thoughts on the National Intelligence Estimate’s findings that the war in Iraq is fueling the global jihadist movement?

The NIE is very troubling. Rick Santorum has disputed the findings of the NIE. What is also troubling is that it took so long for the NIE to be made public.

You’ve said your plan for Iraq is different from Sen. Santorum’s, yet he’s accused you of not laying our any details. Care to give any?

First, we need to agree on the facts on the ground. Second, I want clear, measurable benchmarks from the Iraqis and the Bush administration. Third, most military people tell me the solution is not ultimately going to be military; it’s going to be political. Fourth, we need to rebuild the American military. Finally, but perhaps most important, I want some accountability.

Do you think we should be talking to Syria about possible future diplomatic solutions to ending the war in Iraq?

The U.S. should engage Iraq’s neighbors. President Bush’s authorization of talks with Iran is a step in the right direction. Bush’s Iraq policy has suffered from a lack of diplomacy.

You’ve been an outspoken proponent of bringing a measure of fiscal responsibility to the federal government, yet as state treasurer you did nothing to stop a pay raise law from going into effect, a law you later called unconstitutional. How do you explain that?

I’m the only candidate in this race who has taken a position on the legislative pay raise—I oppose it. As state treasurer, I did not have the power to stop the pay raise without breaking the law. I voiced my opinion to the pay raise early. My opponent is still ducking the issue.

Your opponent has categorized you as a perennial candidate who’s always out campaigning and not focused on the job you’re in. Is that fair?

Rick Santorum has run as many campaigns as I have. He’s the Senate liaison to K Street lobbyists and through his votes and actions has proven that he’s gone Washington. If everything goes as planned, this will be the last election I’ll face for 6 years.

Regarding the Mark Foley situation, do you think Speaker Hastert should resign?

Dennis Hastert must quit his post if he knew of Mark Foley’s behavior and failed to act.