PHILADELPHIANo state is more important to Democrats in this year's off-year election than Pennsylvania.
Of all the Republican-held seats in the Senate coveted by the opposition, none is more so than the one held by Sen. Rick Santorum. Democrats are eager to send him home. For them, he is target No. 1.
By all accounts, Santorum has led a charmed political life so far. In a blue state, the conservative from Pittsburgh has won, been re-elected, and now occupies a seat in the GOP leadership in the Senate.
Santorum wears his conservatism and his Catholicism on his sleeve. He was one of those Republicans out in front on the Terri Schiavo matter in Florida, an issue the GOP took up in Congress with vigor and lost in embarrassment.
Santorum came to the Senate on a mission to swing it to the right. He has tried to show moderation at times, but Democrats just don't like him. And he's in big trouble now.
His opponent will be Democrat Bob Casey Jr., the son of a Democratic governor who, like Santorum, is a Catholic opposed to abortion. Hardly an exciting figure, Casey is the sort of moderate who can't be ripped as a liberal, although the Republicans are sure to call him one.
Although the polls here show Santorum trailing, most observers think the result in November will be close. But even if the Democrats fail to take over the Senate, and their chances are only iffy, they will be overjoyed to send Santorum packing.
The other race to watch is for governor, where football great Lynn Swann of the Pittsburgh Steelers is trying to show that a wide receiver in pro football can be a politician. Swann, an African-American, is trying to unseat Gov. Ed Rendell, the former mayor of Philadelphia who won the governorship when few felt a Jewish mayor from this city could win.
Tempers are hot among voters, spurred on by rabid radio call-in shows. The issue is the hefty pay raise lawmakers in Harrisburg voted themselves last summer in the shank of the night. Rendell signed the bill.
Swann will try to turn the race into a case against Rendell to cover his own shortcomings as a politician. But Rendell has a huge advantage in money. The governor is expected to do well in the Philadelphia area but lose votes around Pittsburgh where euphoric Steeler fans are still talking about winning the Super Bowl.
Rendell is a slight favorite, but incumbents in both parties are worried about a "throw the rascals out" mentality on the pay raise.