Pa.'s Casey preps for re-election run as moderate
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - March 10, 2012 (WPVI) -- Bob Casey had no voting record to pick apart. He campaigned against a deeply unpopular opponent, president and Congress. And he delivered a historic result.
Six years on, the Democrat is campaigning for a second U.S. Senate term and must defend his voting record, his service in an unpopular Congress and his endorsement of a president, Barack Obama, who isn't as popular as he was four years ago.
Pollsters say there are no indications of a 2012 voting wave that favors either political party, leaving Casey with the challenge of winning a race in a moderate state on his own.
Casey, who has supported Obama's signature policies, is poised to run as a moderate as he piles up votes that lately cross partisan lines, or even oppose Obama and Senate Democratic leaders.
Casey said it's not an election-season conversion but that he's always taken tough votes, an unavoidable part of representing a diverse state like Pennsylvania.
"It's really what I've tried to do in all the time I've been in the Senate, is get a sense of what Pennsylvanians expect and try to put Pennsylvania first," Casey told The Associated Press this week. "Often that can put you in conflict with a lot of people in Washington, in both parties."
In 2006, he was the first Democrat in Pennsylvania elected to a full, six-year U.S. Senate term since 1962, thumping two-term incumbent Rick Santorum in a year when Republicans were battling the headwinds of an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq and President George W. Bush.
Casey's winning edge - 59 percent to 41 percent, or almost 2.4 million votes to Santorum's fewer than 1.7 million - was eye-popping. There are few post-World War II examples in Pennsylvania of an incumbent U.S. senator losing, and the last time one was beaten that badly, Democrat Joseph F. Guffey, was during a huge Republican wave in 1946.
This year, Casey has one primary challenger: Joe Vodvarka, a retired spring manufacturer from western Pennsylvania who tried unsuccessfully to get on the Democratic primary ballot for U.S. Senate in 2010. Republicans will pick from a field of five would-be challengers in a low-profile race among candidates with little name recognition.
T.J. Rooney, the former state Democratic Party chairman, said Casey's 2006 victory speaks to a strong candidate, even if deducting, say, 5 percentage points for Santorum's unpopularity and another 5 points for disapproval of Bush.
"That's still 8 or 9 points," Rooney said. "In modern politics and Pennsylvania, that's huge."
If Republicans really viewed Casey as vulnerable, they could have recruited a top-tier challenger, such as a former governor, U.S. House member or state legislative leader, Rooney said. Meanwhile, investing in Casey's challenger may be a low priority for national Republicans, with voters set to decide 10 open Senate seats in November, in addition to a handful of other Senate races that are expected to be close.
Casey, 51, of Scranton, is an opponent of abortion rights and the son of the late former Gov. Robert P. Casey, a high-profile anti-abortion Democrat. Popular with labor unions, the soft-spoken former state treasurer and auditor general has been a largely reliable vote for what Republicans call the Obama administration's liberal agenda.
His top priority is jobs and the economy, he said, pointing to his role in pressing for the renewal of a payroll tax cut in 2012.
For months, Republicans have sought to tie Casey to Obama, whom Republicans see as vulnerable amid the post-recession recovery, rising gas prices, mounting federal debt and his complicated health care law.
Casey, a Catholic, voted for the 2010 health care law, but one element of it - free contraception for women - is providing Republicans with a new attack strategy. Catholic leaders became outraged over the Obama administration's recent attempt to make the provision apply to church-affiliated hospitals, colleges and social service agencies.
The administration came up with a compromise that split critics, but Pennsylvania's Republican Party wants to tie the uproar to Casey and peel off Pennsylvania's considerable bloc of socially conservative Democrats.
"He has not acted like the conservative, Catholic, pro-life politician that he presented himself as," state GOP Chairman Rob Gleason said.
Casey said he has sought to minimize the number of abortions by finding common ground in the fractious debate. For instance, he successfully pushed for funding in the health care law for adoption programs and resources to help young pregnant women and mothers.
He recently parted ways with Senate Democratic leaders and voted to allow employers and insurers to opt out of portions of the health care law they found morally objectionable. The amendment was defeated.
Last year, he took a high-profile stand against free trade deals with Panama, South Korea and Colombia that Obama and Republicans both supported.
On Thursday, Casey challenged Democratic leaders by voting for two amendments to a transportation bill - one to speed approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, the other to postpone tougher air pollution standards for industrial boilers.
Both failed. Among his critics was one would-be Republican challenger who said Casey was trying to disguise past support for energy or environmental policies that Republicans oppose.
"People in Washington try to string together votes and try to form an attack strategy based on that," Casey said. "To the best of my ability, I have to be able to assess votes one at a time and to try to make a determination about what's best for Pennsylvania jobs and the economy."
election, harrisburg, pennsylvania, local/state
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