Poll: Rick Santorum Strongest Challenger to Casey

Is the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling daring Rick Santorum to abandon his presidential ambitions in favor of a run for his former Senate seat?
We found it interesting that PPP released a new survey on Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey’s (D) re-election chances with the following paragraph in the press release:
“With yesterday’s release showing Rick Santorum eight points down to President Obama in the former senator’s home state, Santorum may choose to abandon his exploration of a presidential bid in favor of a rematch of his 2006 loss to now Senator Bob Casey,” the pollsters wrote. “If he does that, he would at least make it much closer than the rout Casey laid on him four years ago, but he would come little closer than he does against the president.”
Specifically, the polling firm found that Casey had a lead ranging from 7 to 23 points over prospective challengers. Santorum, who has signaled little interest in winning back the Senate seat Casey took from him in 2006, comes the closest — he trailed 48 percent to 41 percent.
The next strongest potential Republican challenger is former Gov. Mark Schweiker, who trailed 47 percent to 34 percent; followed by Rep. Jim Gerlach, who was down 49 percent to 33 percent; and Rep. Charlie Dent, who trailed 51 percent to 31 percent. The only announced candidate, former Santorum staffer Marc Scaringi, trailed 50 percent to 27 percent. PPP surveyed 547 Pennsylvania voters Jan. 3-5. The margin of error was 4.2 points.
It’s worth noting that both Dent and Gerlach are unlikely to abandon their new committee assignments in the new Republican-controlled House for a Senate bid.
Dent told Roll Call this week that he’s thrilled to have won a seat on the Appropriations Committee, a spot he sought for more than two years.

“One never rules anything out,” the Congressman said when asked about a Senate run. But “at the same time I haven’t been actively pursuing it.”

And Gerlach’s office suggested that he is equally excited about his new position on Ways and Means.
Gerlach’s “main focus right now is rolling up his sleeves and tackling the important work of the Ways and Means Committee,” spokesman Kori Walter told Roll Call on Thursday. “He really does not have any plans to run for the U.S. Senate.”

Santorum, meanwhile, is showing no signs of backing down from a long-shot presidential bid.
The former Republican Senator’s political action committee, America’s Foundation, hired a New Hampshire state director earlier in the week. That position will be held by veteran political strategist Mike Biundo, who led 1st district freshman Rep. Frank Guinta’s 2010 campaign.
The lack of a potent field at this early stage of the game suggests that Casey’s in relatively strong shape heading into 2012, especially with Obama at the top of the ticket. Still, a lot can happen in two years.
“Casey is not unbeatable by any means but he will be a very formidable candidate and he's on much safer ground than the Sherrod Browns and Claire McCaskills and Jim Webbs of the world who were also a part of his freshman class,” writes pollster Tom Jensen on PPP’s blog.