Politically Uncorrected: Casey vs. Barletta – a Bridge Too Far

Barletta CaseyA hoary old adage about the weather is often attributed to Mark Twain: if you don’t like it now wait five minutes and it will change. Something like that has happened to the burgeoning reelection campaign of Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey now running for a third term to the U.S. Senate.

Only a few short weeks ago the expected Casey race looked like a ho-hum affair in which the popular Senator, bearing the iconic Casey name, would sweep to re-election against whatever sacrificial lamb the GOP served up to contest him. After all, Casey has run five times statewide for three separate offices in the past 15 years, winning all in a landslide.

Moreover, his 2018 candidacy going back to his father, the near legendary governor of the same name would be the 15th time the Casey name had appeared on a state ballot over some six decades.

But then along came Lou – as in Congressman Lou Barletta (R), the Republican incumbent in Pennsylvania’s 11th Congressional district – and everything changed. Casey’s scheduled walk-through became a possible marathon and one of the safest Democratic seats in the U.S. Senate suddenly looked competitive.

Lou Barletta is a competent, likeable congressman who entered politics as a small town mayor, parleying that into a congressional seat by advocating controversial, albeit wildly popular policies to combat illegal immigration.

He now sits in one of the most gerrymandered seats in one of the most gerrymandered states, and hence a seat he could probably occupy for life if he chose. Yet, he instead chooses to give that up, enter what looks like a testy GOP primary, armed with a war chest of only about a half million dollars and low statewide name recognition.

He does so for one compelling reason. His mere presence in the race will transform it into a direct referendum on Trump. That’s because Barletta was Trump before Trump was Trump.

In fact, one source has referred to Barletta as Trump’s “political Godfather” owing to his early high profile efforts to stem illegal immigration. Barletta was also one of the very first publicly to support Trump’s long shot presidential run, and he has been one of Trump’s strongest supporters in office.  He was briefly a candidate for two different cabinet posts and introduced a bill to help fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S. Mexican border. Trump and Barletta are joined at the hip.

Meanwhile, Casey has become the “un-Trump,” transforming himself into one of Trump’s harshest critics. With the notable exception of trade policy, Casey has emphasized his opposition to Trump across the board. Moreover, this is a referendum Trump apparently wants as he has publicly and privately encouraged Barletta to get into the race. Trump is in it to win it, as they say.

But is it winnable? Can a relatively obscure congressman from rural Pennsylvania bring down the reigning colossus of Pennsylvania state politics? Probably not. Some commentators have taken to characterizing Barletta’s task as a “high hill” to climb. But the more apt metaphor is probably “a bridge too far.” Money will be his first problem. Currently, Casey has about ten times more cash on hand ($5.5 million). But even that will be ante up money in 2018. The Toomey race in 2016 topped $176 million, setting a national record. It’s possible that 2018 will exceed that.  Barletta has little experience in raising these magnitudes.

While Trump will aggressively support him, Senate Republicans will be less generous, committing national funds to races supported by leader McConnell and considered more winnable.

Nor will Trump’s low approval ratings in the state help Barletta. Certainly much of Trump’s core 2016 constituency still supports him. But with Trump’s approval rating hovering around the mid 30’s, will they go to the polls November 6th to support Barletta.

Conversely, Casey enters the race with an enormous 800,000 plus active voter registration edge statewide including huge majorities in vote-rich Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. And Barletta will struggle against Casey on the vital trade issues so resonant in the state. Casey has carefully built his image as an advocate for fair trade policies and a critic of many free trade policies.

Similarly, Casey has minded the home fires, devoting much time to town halls interacting with ordinary folks. Also, he maintained a reputation for responsiveness to constituency service. While long considered a low profile campaigner, Casey has become a skilled debater and a competent speaker. In addition, he is mostly inoculated on the ever-bitter issues in Pennsylvania of abortion and guns. Both pro-life and pro-second amendment he incurs few of the handicaps in rural regions of the state experienced by most Democrats.

Finally, a statistic supplied by Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia spells out Barletta’s challenge: For more than a century, the reelection rate for incumbent senators of the party not in the white House is 91percent. Statistically speaking, that makes Barletta’s chances of beating Casey about nine percent.

That’s better than no chance – but not much better.

19 Responses

  1. So why would we nominate Congressman Barletta when there are more qualified candidates in the republican primary to beat Bob Casey in the general?!? I feel like im on crazy pills!

  2. Casey’s unrelenting support for illegal aliens and lack of concern for the working class will cost him his seat. The sooner he is gone the better.

  3. Barletta has a giant, Trump-shaped albatross around his neck. People are tired of their “alt right” politics, demonizing minorities and desperately trying to take healthcare away from people.

  4. Senator Casey is going to have a tough tough time with this one. Congressman Barletta V. Senator Casey in a debate I would put my money on the congressman. Has the writer ever heard Senator Casey speak? The man is the most monotoned person I have ever seen on a national stage. Let’s all not forget Bernie or bust voters Sen. Casey was a staunch staunch Hillary voter. I’m sorry but being from the Northeast where Casey reigns from he is absent from the area.

    1. He is absent from the area because he listens to his campaign staff – unfortunately he listens to them. He needs to shed his staff and don’t listen to the State Party!

    2. Have you ever heard Barletta speak? Not likely since he hasn’t had a public Town Hall meeting with his constituents (I am one) since 2011. He also voted to strip health coverage from hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians. Let’s see how that plays politically.

  5. Sad but true, Senator Casey campaign staff leaves a lot to be desired. His campaign staff picks and chooses where and who he will talk to. He needs to clean house now before its too late. I want Senator Casey to win, but as long as he is shielded from his constituents, he will lose and if he depends the State Party to help him, fat chance.

  6. ‘In addition, he is mostly inoculated on the ever-bitter issues in Pennsylvania of abortion and guns. Both pro-life and pro-second amendment he incurs few of the handicaps in rural regions of the state experienced by most Democrats.’

    Not exactly. Casey is NOT pro-life. In fact his voting record re pro-life issues mirrors that of the New York/New Jersey Senate delegation. As for the 2nd Amendment, Casey is only marginally to the right of Chuck Schumer.

    1. Casey is more pro-life than most “pro-lifers” who firmly believe in the sanctity of human life from conception until birth, and after that, they need to find some bootstraps or they can die in the streets.

    2. The Republicans are ProBirth NOT ProLife. Just look at the healthcare debate- screw regular people to give tax breaks to their rich handlers.

  7. Count on the incompetent Democratic leaders in Southeastern PA to mess this up big time for Democrats.

  8. of course madonna said toomey would lose.

    “popular Senator, bearing the iconic Casey name” popular?

    “Casey has minded the home fires, devoting much time to town halls”—HUH? the one he held in febuary was the first is 5 years.

    the former moderate has moved so far left he father would not reconize his son.

    for all the process the writer does not touch substance, What has Bobby Casey done in twenty plus years on the taxpayers payroll? Name something/anything that has his name attached or something he has created. there is no there.
    he has a glass jaw and Lou will smash it. madonna wrong again.

    1. Bob Casey defeated an incumbent US Senator to win the seat. And he will defeat an incumbent again next year to win re-election.

  9. Are we now forgetting about the trouncing Casey took in the Governors race against Ed Rendell ? 6 times for 4 different offices losing big in one of those races.

  10. “one of the safest Democratic seats in the U.S. Senate”

    Terry Madonna needs to turn in his pundit badge for that. Literally no one thought Casey was safer than say Connecticut or Vermont or Rhode Island or Hawaii or California.

    Moreover, Cook Political still rates PA as “Likely Democrat.”

  11. Great article. Nailed it. While the race may be entertaining, Casey’s chances are much, much greater than Barletta’s.

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