Santorum slips further behind Casey in reelection poll

Democrat Bob Casey has widened his lead over Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), according to a GOP poll to be released today.

The poll, conducted over the weekend by the Atlanta-based firm Strategic Vision, shows Casey, the state treasurer, capturing 52 percent versus Santorum’s 36 percent — a 16-point gap.

Polls released by the same firm showed Santorum trailing by 14 points in September and nine points in August.

Democrats have cheered Casey’s lead in the polls, saying it shows that Santorum is out of step with a majority of Pennsylvanians and that voters are sick of the “culture of corruption” in Washington.

“There’s no doubt about it: Rick Santorum is in trouble,” Casey Campaign Manger Jay Reiff said.

Reiff also cautioned that the Casey campaign expects the race to tighten considerably.

“A two-term incumbent with $25 million is not going to lose by double digits. We expect this to be a very close race.”

The senator raised $1.7 million in the third quarter — $300,000 less than Casey did — but ended the three-month period with $6.6 million in the bank. Casey had $3 million on hand.

Republicans counter that Casey has yet to take a firm position on much of anything in public. They add that he simply has jumped from one elected office to the next.

Santorum’s media consultant, John Brabender, added that so far most Pennsylvania voters are not paying much attention to the race, noting that the senator has yet to begin running television commercials.

“There’s going to be two World Series champions crowned before there’s even another Senate [election] in Pennsylvania,” Brabender said.

David Johnson, the CEO of Strategic Vision, argued that the more significant point of the poll is that Casey has not increased his support.

But Johnson suggested that the race might be on the verge of tightening. He also pointed out that Casey led Ed Rendell in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary by similar margins but ultimately lost decisively.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have made the Pennsylvania race a top priority. With Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), Santorum is one of the GOP’s two most vulnerable incumbents.

While Republicans have voiced concern about Santorum’s flagging poll numbers, they are quick to point out that any number of hard-to-predict factors are likely to shape the race between now and Election Day 2006 — the Iraq war, ever-fluctuating gas prices, the unemployment rate and even the fifth-anniversary commemoration of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.