Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D)
Elected: 2006, term expires 2012, 1st term.
Born: April 13, 1960, Scranton .
Education: Col. of the Holy Cross, B.A. 1982, Catholic U., J.D. 1988.
Family: Married (Terese); 4 children.
Elected office: PA aud. gen., 1996-2004; PA st. treas., 2004-06.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1988-96.
Robert Casey, Jr., a Democrat elected in 2006, is the junior senator from Pennsylvania. He was born in the former coal town of Scranton, the oldest son in a large Irish-Catholic political family. Casey’s father, Robert Casey, lost in three Democratic primaries before winning the first of his two terms as governor in 1986. He was a feisty, tradition-minded practitioner of New Deal-style politics, known best nationally as a steadfast opponent of abortion rights. In 1992, he was prevented from speaking at the Democratic National Convention, a decision certainly related to his stance on abortion but also brought on by his skepticism about Bill Clinton as the right candidate. Robert Casey, Jr.’s brother, Pat Casey, twice ran unsuccessfully for the House with another Casey brother serving as his campaign manager.
|Robert Casey, Jr. (D)||2,392,984||(59%)||($17,592,210)|
|Rick Santorum (R)||1,684,778||(41%)||($25,832,567)|
|Robert Casey, Jr. (D)||629,271||(85%)|
|Chuck Pennacchio (D)||66,364||(9%)|
|Alan Sandals (D)||48,113||(6%)|
Like his father, Robert Jr. graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. He taught in an inner city Philadelphia school for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and got his law degree from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He practiced law in Scranton, and then won election as state auditor general in 1996. He was re-elected in 2000. In 2002, running as a cultural conservative with strong labor support, he lost a bitter and expensive primary for governor to former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell. Casey’s tightly-scripted campaign and negative ads tarnished his image, but he showed some resilience by returning two years later to win the state treasurer’s office with 3.4 million votes, more than any other candidate in Pennsylvania history.
In 2005, national Democrats were looking for a strong challenger against Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, a high-profile social conservative with a red-state following and a blue-state electorate. First in the House and then in the Senate, Santorum showed a knack for winning elections against tough odds. But the state’s political landscape had shifted considerably since his first election to the Senate in 1994. Pennsylvania had voted Democratic in the last four presidential elections, and in 2002, Democrat Rendell captured the governorship and easily carried the populous and once-Republican Philadelphia suburbs.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer of New York considered Casey the only prospective heavyweight challenger to Santorum and quickly moved to clear the field to avoid a cash-draining primary. There was one problem: Casey, like his father, opposes abortion rights, which made him anathema to many cultural liberals in the Philadelphia area. But Schumer believed that Casey could make inroads into Santorum’s culturally conservative and “pro-life” base, and, as the Democratic alternative to Santorum, also could be acceptable to “pro-choice” voters in suburban Philadelphia. The national party’s heavy-handed involvement rankled many Democrats. For a time, former NARAL Pro-Choice America President Kate Michelman contemplated running as an independent. Resistance to Casey’s candidacy faded in the run-up to the election as Casey maintained a steady and sizable lead over Santorum in the polls.
Santorum began the campaign in a difficult position. Though he was mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, his standing at home was tenuous. As early as April 2005, he trailed Casey by double digits in the polls. That summer, he released a book titled, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good. The year before he stood for re-election was perhaps not the best timing for a frank discourse on some of the most divisive cultural issues of the day. Despite his stature as a member of the Senate Republican leadership, his avid support for the increasingly unpopular Bush administration was unhelpful in 2006. Casey hammered him for voting “98 percent of the time” with Bush and characterized Santorum as having close ties to the oil, pharmaceutical and insurance industries. Democrats sought mileage from the issue of Santorum’s residence—an issue Santorum had used against his opponent in his first House campaign in 1990—and questioned whether his Virginia home disqualified him from casting a vote in Penn Hills, the Pittsburgh suburb where Santorum owned a home and was registered to vote. Democrats also criticized him for using Penn Hills school district taxpayer dollars to educate his children in a Pennsylvania-based online charter school though they spent much of their time in Virginia.
Santorum did not run like an incumbent nor Casey like a challenger. Santorum, who trailed in the polls from beginning to end, campaigned aggressively across the state while Casey limited his public appearances in the early stages of the campaign. Santorum in November 2005 called for 10 debates—a typical challenger’s move—while Casey was vague about debates. The two candidates clashed over the war in Iraq, Social Security and immigration. Casey’s socially conservative positions—he also opposes gun control and same-sex marriage—helped cut into Santorum’s advantage outside the state’s metropolitan areas.
Together the two candidates raised $43 million. Santorum outspent Casey by more than $8 million, but it wasn’t enough. Casey won 59%-41%, to become the first Pennsylvania Democrat elected to a full Senate term since Joe Clark in 1962, and the first senator elected from Northeastern Pennsylvania. Casey won by huge margins in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County, 65%-35%, and in Philadelphia, 84%-16%, while holding his own in the Republican “T” that stretches from Pennsylvania Dutch country around Lancaster to the northern tier of sparsely-populated counties along the New York border. Casey also swept the populous Philadelphia suburbs, winning 62% in Delaware and Montgomery counties, 59% in Bucks County and 55% in Chester County.
In the Senate, Casey voted against expanding federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research, which uses cells from the in vitro fertilization process. But his votes for funding family planning organizations that don’t reject abortion as an option gave him a 65% rating from NARAL-Pro-Choice America. In 2007 and 2009, he sponsored bills to provide financial aid and counseling to pregnant women. He spent more energy on promoting funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, similar to a program his father instituted in Pennsylvania in 1992. He said he was guided “by an enduring belief that every child in America—every child—is born with a bright light burning inside them. I feel a real abiding obligation to do everything I can as a public official to keep that bright light burning.” Also in 2007, he co-sponsored a bill to provide $35 billion over five years for pre-kindergarten programs, and worked with New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to promote it.
From his seat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Casey in 2007 called for timetables on U.S. involvement in Iraq, but later acknowledged that Bush’s strategy for a “surge” of U.S. troops to restore civil order in Iraq showed signs of being effective. He said in December 2007, “I think if you look at individual metrics in isolation on the so-called surge you could make an argument in a positive way.” In July 2007, while chairing a committee hearing on nuclear weapons, he said, “The administration has shown a blatant disregard for the diplomacy and multilateral cooperation so essential to a strong nonproliferation regime.”
Casey is skeptical about the free trade policies of the last two decades, and in May 2007 he called for Congress to have the power to terminate future trade agreements that fail to meet benchmarks for creating U.S. jobs, improving U.S. wages or opening markets to U.S. products. On other issues of strong local interest, Casey opposed the building of high-voltage transmission lines from the Appalachian chain to the East Coast as “federal government arrogance” and in October 2007 threatened to block the reconfirmation of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman. The Department of Energy had classified 52 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties as a “national interest electric transmission corridor.” In December 2008, he strongly supported government aid to the Detroit auto companies. “The cost of doing nothing is beyond catastrophic,” he said. “We can’t continue to live in a country where there’s less and less of an opportunity, year in and year out, to make things.”
In the 2008 presidential campaign, Casey endorsed fellow Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. “I believe in this guy like I’ve never believed in a candidate in my life, except my father,” he said. He campaigned hard for Obama in the coal country around his native Scranton and in the southwest part of the state. But Obama lost the Pennsylvania primary to Clinton 55%-45%. He lost Scranton’s Lackawanna County 73%-26% and ran behind by similar margins in other coal and industrial areas. Casey spoke about the economy at the Democratic National Convention in Denver and continued to campaign for Obama in the fall. In winning Pennsylvania, Obama carried Lackawanna County 63%-37%, though he failed to win the coal country in southwestern Pennsylvania.