Sunday, September 04, 2005

Salena Zito Takes Cheap Shots at a Good Man -

Where's the za-za-za-ZOOM? - "Where's the za-za-za-ZOOM?

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By Salena Zito
Sunday, September 4, 2005

The power brokers of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party last winter unleashed upon the electorate their version of a demigod.
Seemingly out of nowhere came freshly minted state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr.

Billed as a savior who would peel a U.S. Senate seat from the hands of Rick Santorum, he was thrust into the spotlight as the most likely Democrat resurrecter in the country.

In theory it was a brilliant move. Casey, a Pennsylvania brand name, had just clinched a landslide victory for treasurer. He had the backing of the Beltway leadership, the nod from the "progressives" and over-the-top enthusiasm from his one-time nemesis, Ed Rendell.

Thus was born the perfect political triangulation.

But we all know there is no such thing as perfect; this is politics, not Walgreens.

Most of Bobby Casey's detractors have pointed to his obvious vulnerability -- he lacks a message. But there is a deeper problem: If he had a message, he'd lack the ability to deliver it.

Casey suffers from a fatal political flaw. He's dull. Al Gore dull. Joe Lieberman dull. And most of us can agree that the only thing that kept John Kerry from putting us all in a coma was anticipating what Teresa would say next.

It's quite different with Casey's opponent, Rick Santorum. Love him or hate him, he's a man who overachieves and gets results. Casey is well-liked by most but commands little respect let alone a political pulse.

Santorum cut his teeth winning tough battles. From his first gutsy run for Congress in 1990 -- taking down Doug Walgren -- to his campaign against Harris Wofford for the Senate, Santorum never has backed away from a challenge or controversy.

Santorum's positions may not always win a popularity poll but they always send a clear and concise message. No one ever has to question where Rick Santorum stands on an issue; he's the first to tell you.

Contrast that with Casey, who ran for state auditor general because, in his own words, his dad did. He was re-elected seamlessly and in 2004 was elected state treasurer. Casey probably could run for any state row office and win it on filing day. These races are more about name ID than anything else.

Conversely, when Casey ran for governor, he flat-lined. He was directionless, issueless and defenseless. He allowed the labor unions to highjack his campaign and message while he sputtered pathetically on communicating a new direction for Pennsylvania. In the end, he had no defense for the mean-spirited personal attack ads that he ran against Rendell.

Democrats gravitated toward Casey for U.S. Senate because they learned they could not just be the party of Michael Moore and Ted Kennedy. Some of those "red voters" used to be true blue. In the Northeast and Midwest they are known as Reagan Democrats. In the South, they are Christians who vote their beliefs.

Casey cannot rescue a Mudville Party by engaging in the same mudslinging that he used against Rendell. The real problem this cycle for Casey and the Democratic Party is that their hero is well-known, liked and presentable, but still has no message. Couple that with a lackluster delivery and an all-star he never will be.

Voters want za-za-za-ZOOM. That is why they gravitate to personalities like Santorum and Rendell.

So forget the polls, analysts and talking heads. Watch the personalities of the candidates and listen to what they say about the issues. That will decide the outcome of next year's race.

For Bob Casey, spring training is about to end; it's time to see if he is ready to bat in the majors. But he'll need some political Viagra to perk up his decidedly za-za-za-less zoom.

Salena Zito, a political consultant who has worked for both Democrats and Republicans, lives in Mt. Lebanon. E-mail her at:"


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