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Casey, Wagner stump here

Sunday, March 24, 2002

By James O'Toole, Politics Editor, Post-Gazette

The newly minted Democratic team of Bob Casey Jr. and Jack Wagner stumped throughout Western Pennsylvania yesterday, urging support for one another while accusing the Schweiker administration of moving too slowly in implementing a health care assistance program.

Along the way, Casey, a contender for the Democratic nomination for governor, repeatedly praised Wagner, listened to stories about the plight of laid-off steelworkers, and learned that that clear liquid served in the small glasses at the Croatian Club wasn't water.

Wagner, a veteran state senator from Beechview, agreed last week to run for lieutenant governor alongside Casey. In Pennsylvania, contenders for the state's two top offices run separately in the primary and join as a formal ticket only in the general election, but candidates frequently run as an informal team in the spring.

On the Republican side, Attorney General Mike Fisher, the party's sole candidate for governor, and state Sen. Jane Earll, R-Erie, have formed a similar partnership. Former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, Casey's rival for the Democratic nomination, has said he is likely to leave the choice up to the voters.

Rendell and Casey are locked in what is viewed as a close race. In television commercials, Casey launched an attack on Rendell's record on education this week, but Casey and Wagner barely mentioned him yesterday, concentrating, in a day of person-to-person campaigning, on exchanges of mutual admiration.

On a brisk, sunny afternoon, Casey and Wagner were greeted in Cokeburg, Washington County, by musicians and visitors to the Tamburitzan Festival at the St. George Lodge of the Croatian Fraternal Union.

Later they would tour an Easter Open House at the Sarris Candy factory in Canonsburg, attend a rally in Aliquippa's Musical and Political Italian Club, and watch Golden Gloves boxers in Crafton Heights. The varied itinerary of retail campaigning contrasted with Casey's more typical appearances in the region in recent months, which have been heavy on audiences of union members and Democratic party officials.

In the early weeks of the campaign, Rendell pursued a heavier schedule of public appearance in Southwestern Pennsylvania, hoping to cut into the auditor general's vote in a region in which Casey counts on doing well in the May 21 primary.

Casey must pile up big margins among Democrats in this region and the center of the state to counteract the strong showing anticipated for Rendell in the east.

At the Beaver County rally, the candidates met several steelworkers whose health benefits are a victim of the bankruptcy of the LTV Corp. Casey urged federal support for a restoration of the health benefits, while also flaying the administration of Gov. Mark Schweiker for delaying the implementation of a new health insurance program for adults.

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