Bob Casey’s Boring Campaign
By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor
State College — For Bob Casey, being boring is a virtue. The freshman Senator doesn’t talk much about his campaign opponents. Aside a few oblique references to obstructionism in Washington, he doesn’t knock Republicans. He doesn’t stir up the base with red meat partisan issues.
Simply put, he doesn’t pick fights.
As he walked from caucus room to caucus room Saturday morning, Casey spent most of his time empathizing. The economy is better, but still not good enough. Unemployment is lower, but not low enough.
He was greeted as a hero by state committee members – so many of whom saw their representation in Washington flip from blue to red in 2010. But he didn’t throw punches at the GOP.
“It’s not going to be easy for me, the President or anybody,” he told members of the south central caucus in his most direct reference to his 2012 campaign. “I think we’re going to win. I’m not saying its going to be easy, it’s going to be a long, tough road, and I’m asking for your help.”
Speaking to the committee as a whole, the de facto leader of the Pa. Democratic party didn’t mention Republicans. The general election style speech focused on the economy and the recent flooding in northeast Pa.
He went on to explain to the 300 plus party activists the importance of limiting the supply of ammonium nitrate – a key component of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
At state committee this weekend and in general, Casey sticks to his message: jobs, jobs, jobs. Prudent, if not exciting.
It’s a style that Casey has mastered, and it has worked for him thus far. A December poll from the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion and the Allentown Morning Call showed Casey with strong numbers: 54 approving of his job performance, while only 24 percent disapprove. Most observers believe he has a straight path to re-election. Until recently, among Republicans, the most salient criticism of the Senator was that he was a “do nothing” in Washington.
Contrast that with the man he defeated for his seat, Rick Santorum, whose stridently conservative views and penchant for committing unforced errors inspired intense antipathy among Democrats.
But the Senator’s biggest challenge may not be his own performance. As the 2012 cycle heats up and the Republican field narrows, the GOP has a new line of attack. Barack Obama’s numbers in Pa. are far from strong, and 2010 showed that tying an opponent to the President was an effective electoral strategy.
It’s already a common talking point among his prospective opponents, who point to Casey’s record of voting with Obama 97 and 98 percent of the time in 2009 and 2010, respectively (according to the most recent Congressional Quarterly ratings available). It stings especially because in his first campaign, Casey blasted Santorum for voting with Bush 95 percent of the time.
“When you have two politicians In Washington that agree 98 percent of the time, one of them is really not necessary,” Casey said during an appearance on Meet the Press in 2006.
Steve Welch, an entrepreneur from Chester County, even released satirical video suggesting the two were “separated at birth.”
“People don’t even agree with their spouses that often,” says a fictional expert in the video. “Yet Casey and Obama are the exact same on the failed stimulus, the bailout, the reckless budgets, Obamacare, raising the debt limit, you name it.”
Casey said he doesn’t think the attack will stick.
“I’m not sure that most voters make voting determinations based upon the relationship you have to a party or another candidate – even a president. I think they’re going to get a lot of information about the President’s record, they’ll get a lot of information on my record, and when I think when they do that we’ll be just fine.”
He predicted that Obama will be an asset to his re-election effort, rather than a liability.
“Definitely an asset. Whenever you’re running, or in a year when there’s gonna be high interest in a race, as a presidential race is – I want to see as many people vote as possible this year.”
And asked how he would contend with one of the three millionaires vying to unseat him – Welch along with Tim Burns of Washington County and Tom Smith of Armstrong County – Casey stuck to his (boring) guns.
“The most important thing I can do is do my job. The first thing I’ll confront when we go back is being a member of the conference committee – leading the effort on the payroll tax,” he said.