Pennsylvania’s Progressive Choice

The upcoming Pennsylvania primary election to decide who takes on right-wing Sen. Rick Santorum for his seat looks to be a sure nailbiter. If you listen to the Democratic Leadership Council, the approved choice and frontrunner is Bob Casey Jr., an antichoice, pro-war candidate who comes across as Santorum-lite. But there is a viable candidate for progressives who has a better shot at winning than many in the status-quo crowd will admit. He’s Dr. Chuck Pennacchio, an educator and Democrat who is even more truly progressive than the esteemed late Paul Wellstone was.

I learned of the candidate via my friend Thomas Nephew at the excellent Newsrack Blog.

As a famous Pennsylvanian once said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We can accept Bob Casey’s nomination as a foregone conclusion; then if all goes well we can expect him to join the Joe Liebermans of the Democratic Party and cross over to the other side whenever we need him most — Supreme Court nominations, the national security debate, women’s rights, elementary election politics.

Or we can support Chuck Pennacchio, his opponent in the Democratic primaries. Unlike Casey, Pennacchio opposed Alito, he supports women making their own decisions about abortion, he wants a plan and a timetable for getting out of Iraq, and he doesn’t try to be so much like Rick Santorum, the incumbent Republican senator, that even the Santorum camp is amused: “…you [Casey Jr.] wait for Senator Santorum – and then days or weeks later, you come out with the same position. For example, on questions about supporting the Iraq war or working to reduce home heating costs, you watched Rick Santorum articulate his positions, and then followed his lead by stating the same position on the issue.”

After reading this, I had to check with the Pennacchio campaign myself. All too often, candidates say or imply the right things on relatively cut-and-dried issues such as reproductive choice, the Iraq invasion and health care only to fall short on the most basic matter: equality under law for all Americans. The campaign’s response pleased me infinitely and showed the real difference between the progressive candidate and Bob Casey.

My question was this: Does Dr. Pennacchio support marriage equality – NOT civil-union Jim Crow, but legal marriage for all Americans?

The answer: “Do we support equal marriage rights for GLBT couples? Yes.”

No parsing, no dissembling, no BS. Chuck Pennachio believes in legal equality for everyone.


Contrast that position to the one held by the Democratic Party leadership’s golden boy. Casey told the gay civil-rights group Human Rights Campaign that he opposes the anti-GLBT Federal Marriage Amendment and believes the sexual orientation of prospective adoptive parents should not matter. All good. But when he answered a 2005 Pennsylvania Catholic Conference questionnaire, he was asked these questions:

“What is your position on government requiring that benefits be provided to same-sex couples?”

“What is your position on legislation allowing homosexual couples to adopt children?”

In both instances, his answer was “Oppose.”

Lancaster County Action reports that on another questionnaire that asked his opinion on same-gender marriage, Casey stated his opposition.

Casey not only says that he is opposed to legal equality for many of those he wants to call constituents, he apparently is craven and calculating enough to say whatever he thinks a particular audience wants to hear.

Marriage equality is not the only issue where Bob Casey shows his anti-progressive colors. He supports the Iraq invasion and occupation. He is anti-choice. He opposes government gun-safety efforts. He opposes the separation of church and state and supports the display of the 10 Commandments in public buildings. He supported Capitol Hill lawmakers sticking their noses into the Terri Schiavo situation. He supported the confirmations of right-wing Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito. He opposes universal health care and apparently refuses to get behind pushing for a living wage for all American workers.

Conversely, Chuck Pennacchio wants a troop pullout from a war he calls “illegal.” He is pro-choice. He supports gun-safety initiatives and wants to stop the erosion of the separation of church and state. He considered the Schiavo tragedy a family matter and says he will work for universal health care and a living wage. And he stood against Roberts and Alito.

Pennacchio’s positions are in line with progressive principles. But Santorum-lite, er, Casey is the Democrat leadership’s choice – and DLC types want Pennsylvanians to believe that he is theirs as well.


Here in Pennsylvania, they keep polling for the coming Senate race for the seat now held by Rick Santorum. But they only poll to see how Santorum would do against the darling of the DLC insiders, Bob Casey, Jr. They ignore grassroots candidate Chuck Pennacchio, even though in every blogosphere poll, Pennacchio has been able to win by recruiting more grassroots support. We know that Casey is polling 16 points higher than Santorum. Be we don’t know how well Pennacchio would do against Santorum, or how he is looking against Casey. This is the biggest, most watched race that will be happening in the nation next year. Yet all the polling organizations are ignoring what could be a totally viable candidate who is the only one who supports women’s rights to abortion and embryonic stem cell research. The pollsters are hurting the democratic process here and helping keep the whole race loaded to the right.

To combat this, OpEdNews commissioned Zogby – a respected, nonpartisan polling outfit – to conduct an unbiased survey to find out what Pennsylvania voters would say given all their voting options. The findings are telling.

Santorum loses when matched with any of the Democratic candidates. Both of the self-identified progressive Democratic candidates Pennacchio and Alan Sandals] draw higher percentages than Casey, with Pennacchio having the largest percentage of votes against Santorum, at a not quite significant 4.4 points higher than Casey. Casey, at non-significant levels, actually gets MORE votes from Republicans once they find out more about him and Santorum.

In another survey, this one unscientific, the story is similar.

A poll at asks area Dems who [sic] they prefer to unseat Santorum in the fall and the answer is not Casey. Unknown Bucks County history professor Dr. Chuck Pennacchio is ahead by a wide margin. He has 82 percent while another Democrat unknown, Philadelphia pension attorney Alan Sandals, garnered 10 percent.

For the record, Casey, the incumbent state treasurer, was running third — getting only 9 percent of the 125 votes cast as of late last week.

If you are a progressive Pennsylvanian, consider yourself fortunate: You have something few of us do – a truly progressive candidate who wants to serve all the people. If you are a progressive – whatever your home state – helping Pennacchio’s campaign can help the entire nation down the road. Please do what you can for the effort: donate money, volunteer your time and energy. And be sure to spread the good word: Pennsylvania has a terrific choice to unseat wingnut Santorum: His name is Chuck Pennacchio and unlike the DLC fave, he is a true progressive.

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