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Antigay senator
struggling to connect with Pennsylvania voters

Antigay senator
struggling to connect with Pennsylvania voters

Rick Santorum has spent 12 years in the Senate--and millions of dollars on TV ads for a third term. Yet a lot of Pennsylvania voters just plain don't like him. Polls show Santorum's approval rating is in the 30s, just about what it was a year ago. Roughly the same number of voters view him unfavorably as favorably.

Questions over the use of Pennsylvania tax dollars to pay for the cyber schooling of his six children in Virginia continue to dog him. Anger lingers over comments he made in a book last year criticizing some working parents as well as his support of keeping Terri Schiavo alive. And he has angered gays and their supporters with statements opposing same-sex marriage and comparing homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia. ''Santorum's real problem is Santorum,'' said Clay Richards, a Quinnipiac University pollster.

A confident politician with youthful good looks, Santorum is banking on his reputation as a hard worker who brings home the federal dollars and on the clout he has as the number 3 Senate Republican. Pennsylvania is a Democratic-leaning state, and working for votes is nothing new to him. He frequently boasts that with him voters at least know where he stands on issues.

Some GOP candidates are distancing themselves from President Bush, but Santorum said he's not. ''Just because the president is down in the polls, I'm not someone who is going to walk away from him,'' he said.

In a tactical nod to his unpopularity, Santorum's campaign has run positive TV ads in an attempt to soften his image. In a funny one titled ''Polka,'' he bumps into a woman on a dance floor who thanks him for what he does and then tells him, ''Move it or lose it.'' He's sponsored women's forums and has a section on his campaign Web site, ''I heard it around the water cooler,'' that attempts to debunk some perceptions about him.

His strategy is also to question the integrity of state treasurer Bob Casey, his Democratic opponent, who has a lead in the polls. Santorum has run harsh TV ads attempting to link Casey to corruption. He's also accused Casey of relying on the name of his father, the late governor Robert P. Casey, to get elected. He's said Casey doesn't take tough stands on issues and avoids debates, even though Casey has already done one and has agreed to three more.

Casey answered one of Santorum's attack ads with one featuring Gov. Ed Rendell calling the ad ''trash.'' Another says Santorum's ''record and his attack ads are a disgrace.'' In TV ads, Casey has reminded voters about Santorum's book, in which he wrote that both parents shouldn't work outside the home if they can survive on one income. The Casey campaign has also dumped hundreds of unflattering clips of Santorum on YouTube, a Web site that usually features wacky videos. In appearances and in ads, Casey reminds voters that Santorum votes with the president 98% of the time.

In a Quinnipiac University poll released late last month, 39% of likely voters viewed Casey favorably, an increase from 31% about a year ago in the same poll. Eighteen percent had an unfavorable view, which was about the same as a year ago. (AP)

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