As a former resident of Pennsylvania, I can tell you that when it comes to voting, the Keystone State is an odd place. There are blue areas around the state, mostly Philadelphia and other urban centers, but Pennsylvania is still a place where a good candidate, no matter what party, can rise to the top and become a force. Pennsylvanians tend to look at each individual candidate not so much for party affiliation, but for stands on individual issues.
Pennsylvania has the highest population of voters over the age of 65, mainly because the benefits of being old in Pennsylvania are many. As one example, all proceeds for the Pennsylvania lottery go to programs benefiting senior citizens. The late Republican Senator John Heinz, nicknamed "Senator Landslide", was one of the bigger advocates of issues affecting seniors during his tenure in the Senate. Pennsylvania is also roughly 30% Catholic, a great many of whom vote only based on a candidate’s stand on abortion.
Into this backdrop comes freshman senator Bob Casey, Jr., who today announced that he is endorsing Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for President. Like his namesake former governor father, Casey’s power center is mostly in Western Pennsylvania, and his name and endorsement will do nothing but help Obama in the red and purple parts of the state.
Now relocated, I haven’t had a chance to see Bob Casey Jr. enough to form an opinion on his political career, but my opinion of his father is carved in granite. I was taught not to speak ill of the dead, but in Bob Casey Sr.’s case, I’ll make an exception. He was a scumbag. The biggest reason he won his first gubernatorial campaign was because of a TV ad now referred to as "The Guru Ad". The ad was run in the western and rural parts of the state against his Republican opponent, Mark Scranton. It showed pictures of a long-haired Scranton in the early 1970’s as a threatening voice talked about his living for a short time on a commune under the leadership of some questionable cult-like figure now lost to the sands of time. The insinuation of the ad was clear. Do you trust Casey, anti-choice establishment Democrat, or some now clean-shaven hippie? The ad was considered so toxic at the time that it never ran on any station anywhere near Philadelphia, as it was thought that the ad would cut into Casey’s Democratic base of support there. Casey ended up racking up big numbers in the rural part of the state that carried him to the Governor’s mansion.
When Casey Sr. was in declining health in the mid-90’s, he was able to get a heart-lung transplant by magically appearing at the top of the transplant list. No one ever provided a reasonable explanation for how this happened.
Bob Casey Jr., much like his father, is a Democrat more for political expediency than for any other reason. The Casey family is adamantly anti-choice and they are very comfortable seeking the middle ground when the Republican wagons begin circling. It’s hard to blame them for this behavior, given the split personality of the Pennsylvania electorate. Casey will have a long career in Pennsylvania politics because the Republican Party in Pennsylvania is currently drenched with people like Curt Weldon, Joe Pitts and Pat Toomey. Arlen Specter, as silly as he is in all his camera-mugging glory, is truly the best the Republican Party in Pennsylvania has to offer in the post-John Heinz era. In any other state, a guy like Bob Casey would either never make it past the local level, or he would be a Republican in the mold of a John Danforth. I gave him my support from afar in the last Senate election because like many others I observed that Rick Santorum was a cancer on the body politic and needed to have his revolting back side booted back to Virginia, where he actually lives.
Bob Casey Jr. endorsing Obama is good for Obama in the short term, but Casey is not a guy with a lot of credibility with the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. Given Pennsylvania’s political intricacies, this endorsement is stunning. On the surface, Casey would seem to have more in common with Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama. In a state like Pennsylvania, where KKK membership is higher than any other state in the union (you truly have to see parts of Central Pennsylvania to believe it), Casey endorsing Obama won’t do him any favors in 2012 if he runs for re-election to his Senate seat. I commend Bob Casey Jr. for the courage of his endorsement of Obama, but it is with the realization that it doesn’t do Obama any favors with his core constituency in other parts of the country.