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National Journal: GOP Looking For A Casey Challenger

By Jeremy P. Jacobs
November 16, 2010 | 1:55 PM

Coming off Republican Pat Toomey‘s Senate win, Pennsylvania Republicans are fired up and already discussing how they can unseat first term Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) in 2012.

The problem for Republicans, though, is the dearth of potential top tier challengers to run against Casey. In picking up a whopping five seats in the House this year, the Pennsylvania GOP is dealing with the reality that it cleared its bench in 2010. It is unlikely that a freshman representative turns around and launches a Senate campaign.

“The ‘A Team’ all got elected two weeks ago,” said Pennsylvania Republican strategist Charlie Gerow. “There are still some quality candidates out there, but the bench certainly isn’t as deep as it was.”

Among those likely to top the list are veteran Reps. Jim Gerlach (R) and Charlie Dent (R).

Gerlach has eyed statewide office in the past, having launched a gubernatorial campaign last year. Republicans note that Gerlach has always seemed to want to get out of Washington, though, so a run for the Senate might not be what he is looking for. Gerlach, like Dent, could be attracted to the six-year terms of the Senate since they currently face difficult re-election bids every two years.

Dent, who just won re-election to his fifth term in the House, would also be a top contender. The problem for Dent is geographical. He is from Allentown, which is near Toomey’s home and Pennsylvanians typically don’t go for two senators from the same part of the state.

After those two, the next tier of contenders is led by state Sen. Jake Corman (R). Corman is considered a rising star in the party. One GOP strategist said he’d be a candidate “straight from central casting” because he is charismatic and has shown he can raise money in buckets. He is the chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee and sources in Pennsylvania say he has already started making calls about the Senate race.

Like Dent, Corman has a geographical disadvantage. Corman is from Centre County — which is not one of the state’s population hubs.

Another Republican who might look at the race is radio talk show host Glen Meakem, who has close ties to the Tea Party. But Meaken has considered other races in the past and failed to pull the trigger.

Lack of top-tier names aside, Pennsylvania Republicans believe Casey will be vulnerable. Republicans are quick to point out that it will be easy to tie Casey to Pres. Obama, who has seen his numbers plummet in Pennsylvania.

And despite the continued Democratic registration advantage, the energy among Pennsylvania Republicans is the highest it has been in years. Republicans effectively turned out their base and disaffected independents and if that could be replicated in 2012, it would bode well for their chance against Casey.

Republicans say that Casey has been able to avoid tough races in the past in large part because his name — and that of his father, former Gov. Bob Casey — have scared off potential challengers and allowed Casey to skate to easy victories. Republicans are quick to point out that Casey actually lost his most hotly contested race when Gov. Ed Rendell beat him in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary. His support of the health care bill, which has been viewed unfavorably in the state and played a role in several members’ losses, could hurt his brand as a culturally-conservative Democrat.

The Casey camp is already looking ahead to 2012. They point out that in 2006 Casey performed better in the southwest and northeast parts of the state than Rep. Joe Sestak did this year. They also expect that the presidential race will boost turnout in Democratic areas like Philadelphia.

“Sen. Casey takes every race seriously,” said Larry Smar, a spokesman for Casey. “He will run a strong campaign that highlights his record of putting Pennsylvanians first.”

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