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Politically Uncorrected: Casey vs Barletta: the Probabilities

If politics is a science, it is a science of probabilities, not certainties. “President” Hillary Clinton could probably elaborate on that as could the late “President” Tom Dewey.

This is not to say there are no certainties in politics. One is the calendar. Pennsylvania on November 6th will hold a U.S. Senate election (along with 33 other states) – one that almost certainly will help determine which national party controls Congress during the last two years of President Trump’s current term.

Another near certainty is that the opposing major party nominees will be Democrat incumbent Bob Casey and retiring Republican Congressman Lou Barletta. Casey’s a two-term incumbent who has no serious opposition within the Democratic Party while Barletta overwhelming won the endorsement of his Republican Party.

Finally, we can be sure the Pennsylvania senate race will be perceived as a proxy war between the supporters of President Trump and his opponents. No fiercer critic of Trump serves in the senate than Democrat Bob Casey, while there has been no more loyal or enthusiastic supporter of Trump than Barletta. Casey routinely criticizes Trump for many of his policies. While Barletta, who co-chaired Trump’s race in Pennsylvania, was the early face of immigration policies Trump later adopted.

Who might win this looming contest between two candidates who could not be more different? Answering that takes us squarely into the realm of political probabilities, where numerous historical and political antecedents prefigure the race.

Collectively, these suggest that Congressman Barletta, indeed, has “a high hill to climb” to defeat Casey – although it would be foolish to predict either an easy or certain victory for the two- term incumbent. Barletta, who hails from Hazelton, is no “Rocky Balboa” like political pugilist, and he has no bronze statue sitting off the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

But “Rocky” could well be Barletta’s campaign avatar as he begins an epic struggle to unseat Casey – who has run statewide five times for three separate offices in the past 15 years, winning all of them in a landslide. In fact, his 2018 candidacy going back to his father, the near legendary governor of the same name, will be the 15th time the Casey name has appeared on a state ballot over some six decades.

Hard statistical probabilities lead the list of challenges confronting Barletta. For more than a century, the reelection rate for incumbent senators of the party not in the White House is 91 percent. Statistically speaking, that makes Barletta’s chances of beating Casey about nine percent.

Most of this is explained by Casey’s incumbency amped up by the well established “midterm effect,” whereby the party holding the White House struggles to win congressional races.

Barletta also faces other challenges. One of these is Trump. The congressman has embraced him so fiercely that the race will inevitably be seen as a personal referendum on Trump and his policies. Trump’s current anemic approval rating means Barletta may have trouble expanding his base beyond core Trump supporters. Even worse, Barletta is most known for his hard line position on immigration, a position greatly at odds with swing and independent state voters.

Organizational challenges also confront the Barletta campaign. Barletta has never had a tough race nor has he ever run statewide in a state of 8.5 million registered voters living in six major media markets. In making the race he is moving from the minors to the majors, becoming a “rookie” in a state that has been tough on rookies seeking the senate.

Money also looks problematic for Barletta. Casey already has about ten times more cash on hand ($5.5 million). Nor is this more than early money in 2018. The Toomey race in 2016 topped $175 million, setting a national record.

Barletta has little experience in raising these large sums. To do better he has to attract Republican national campaign funders to his cause – and to do that he must demonstrate the ability to raise more funds. That will not be easy. Competitive races abound across the country and Barletta must look like a winner to attract his share of campaign contributions.

All of this paints a dreary picture for the Barletta candidacy. He is likely to lose. But likely to lose is not certainty that he will.

Trump’s approval ratings are showing a modest upward tick nationally which could continue into the November election. Certainly, he will campaign for Barletta and it is not yet clear whether Trump helps or hurts on the campaign trail.

Moreover, the now elusive money will flow into Barletta’s coffers if he gains momentum and rookie or no; he might turn out to be a great campaigner.

If any or all of these things happen, this race could end up an old fashioned Pennsylvania nail biter.

The probabilities are that it won’t. The certainty is that it could.

16 Responses

  1. I think it’s interesting that we have two candidates from the same geological and cultural region of Pennsylvania: Anthracite country. I wonder if that might affect turnout elsewhere.

  2. Terry-

    How do you keep get invited back to write guest columns?

    “No fiercer critic of Trump serves in the senate than Democrat Bob Casey” ? Really? Did you ever hear of Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders or Chuck Schumer?

    1) Trump’s approval numbers are down.
    2) Acting like a jack@ss seems to work only for Trump
    3) Casey is a well-liked two-term incumbent without negative baggage. (Actually, his biggest negative baggage was his horrific support for the 20-week abortion ban, that was never going to pass. But, it lost him all the ground he made with liberals, because they can’t trust him to be the 60th vote.)
    4) Barletta is as appealing as a case of herpes.
    5) The blue wave is going to sweep Casey to a third term.

    1. Madonna uses his “pollster” status to push his own political agenda. Reading this latest “probabilities” one would think why would a Barletta supporter even go to polls. Just like he told us how Hillary was going to beat Trump in PA. Because he WANTED Hilary to beat Trump. If he was so good with his polling he should have seen Trumps appeal. If the didnt see it, he’s a lousy pollster. Only other explanation is that he says the polls say whatever his political leaning is.

      1. Nobody picks up a telephone faster if a media outlet is calling. Madonna is a publicity whore, a Democrat in sheep’s clothing.

    1. If only Booby were pro-life. He always votes to fund Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortionist. He has neither the intelligence or the principles of his father — whose principles were pretty much limited to his pro-life views. Like all Democrats, he couldnt count worth a crap.

        1. Embedded in other bills, perhaps, but Lou’s not dining out on his phony “pro-life” credentials the way Booby always has.

          1. No, Barletta is just out there pushing his ethnonationalist garbage, ignoring that America is a nation of immigrants and immigration is what makes America great, not a bunch of coddled, old white guys who are afraid of change and forget that their ancestors were once treated the same way they’re treating the new guys.

          2. Oh stop nation of immigrants. My great grandparents came here and respected the people, the country the ideals. The illegals want to take Access cards, free medical care and any other handout to avoid getting a job..

    2. Madonna’s analysis flawed or simply his own agenda. Barletta will appeal to the working class D’s on immigration and tie Casey into Schumer and Pelosi.
      Madonna doesnt get Trump’s appeal to working D’s.

      1. Bob Casey got the name from his father but little
        else. His brothers Matthew and Patrick got the brains in the family

  3. I want Paul Addis in the primary — but will reluctantly vote Casey in the general if Barletta is nominated and unleashes all the nonsense and vile rhetoric and behavior we saw from the GOP in 2016…. Will promptly register independent if the GOP nominates Barletta and Wagner. They are not conservative or worthy of the GOP’s great legacy…. Just like their race baiting boss, Trump.

  4. The writers think that, in Silent Bob Casey, the Senate contains “No fiercer critic of Trump.” I think it’s cute that they presumed to describe that witless mediocrity as “fierce” about anything.

  • Does the NYC Verdict Make You More or Less Likely to Vote For Trump in 2024?

    • Less Likely (36%)
    • More Likely (34%)
    • Makes No Difference (30%)

    Total Voters: 112

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