AS THE POLITICAL season gets hot and heavy, there are a slew of political ads airing on Pennsylvania TV stations, but none have been so harsh as the ones in the race between Bob Casey and Sen. Rick Santorum.

Santorum started his ad campaign off kindly enough, with messages of his love for seniors, as he walked around them as they were polka dancing.

Now they've become increasingly harsher, with Santorum running an ad that portrays some Casey financial donors spending time in the same jail cell. (In fact, the majority of them haven't even given to Casey's Senate campaign, and one is actually dead.)

But one ad catching attention just recently is one being run by a political action committee named VoteVets.org, which says Sen. Santorum voted against giving our troops body armor.

I don't know which is more jarring - the charge, or the visual in the ad. In it, a reservist by the name of Peter Granato shoots up the same sort of flak jacket he was given when he deployed to Iraq.

The bullets from his AK-47 - the weapon used by Iraqis - go through the vest like a hot knife through butter. He then shoots at more modern body armor, which stops the bullets dead cold. Holding up the good body armor, he says, "Sen. Rick Santorum voted against giving our troops this. Now it's time for us to vote against him."

A strong ad with a strong charge. But is it true? Sen. Santorum seems to think not, or at least has said so in complaints filed with stations around the state running the ad.

An examination of his complaint doesn't seem to pass the laugh test, however. The senator first claims he had no idea that the money would have gone toward body armor because the amendment the ad cites, and which he voted against, never said "body armor" in it.

That's silly. There are plenty of bills on Capitol Hill that don't specifically say what they'll be funding. The president's hallmark education bill, the No Child Left Behind law, never said the words "high school." So, would the senator insist that he had no idea that funds from that bill would go to high schools?

Sen. Mary Landrieu, the Louisiana Democrat who introduced the amendment, made it abundantly clear in a press release when she introduced the amendment that funds would go to the National Guard and reserve to buy protective equipment, including "tactical vests" and "bulletproof inserts." I think that pretty much qualifies as body armor.

Sen. Santorum also tries to make the case that funding was never a problem when it came to body armor, so it's unfair to criticize him for voting against it. Oh, how soon they forget. In September 2003, Gen. John Abizaid testified to Congress that the Pentagon needed an extra $300 million for body armor. In fact, that money was part of an $87 billion supplemental spending bill the president sent to Congress.

When presidential candidate John Kerry voted against it, Republicans were more than happy to point out that he "voted against body armor." No argument was made then that funding was not an issue.

Ultimately, what's happening here is that Sen. Santorum doesn't want to play by the same rules as everyone else. When he and his Republican cronies attacked John Kerry for "voting against body armor," it was all right. When Sen. Santorum makes some tough charges against Bob Casey, it's just dandy. But, heaven forbid someone should take the senator to task for his record - it's a reason to demand stations pull the ad containing the charges.

I've got three words for you, senator, and they're not "bring it on." Senator, suck it up.

Flavia Colgan is a member of the Daily News editorial board and an MSNBC commentator. Check out her blog, CitizenHunter, at citizenhunter.com.