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Inside The Box

Suburban Guerilla speaks up for Bob Casey, Jr. as both a matter of substance and political tactics. I'm less interested in the substantive issue at the moment, because Rick Santorum is so egregiously bad -- especially on the sort of "culture wars" issue we're concerned with at the moment -- that I think it's clear that Casey would unquestionably be worthy of support were he to get the nomination. On tactics, Susan offers, "I do know Pennsylvania. It's been accurately described as 'Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on the ends, and Alabama in the middle.' . . . The voter-heavy Philadelphia suburbs are rich with anti-abortion Catholics. The bishops push the voters hard, and running any pro-choice candidate will be an uphill battle."

I can't really claim to "know Pennsylvania." I do know that in 2004 Pennsylvanians picked a pro-choice presidential candidate over a pro-life one. They did the same in 2000. And the same in 1996. And the same in 1992. I also know that the state elected a pro-choice governor in 2002. And that Arlen Specter won as a pro-choice Senate candidate in 1980, 1986, 1992, 1998, and 2004. So it hardly seems to me to be the case that this is a state whose voters are driven by rabid social conservatism. Last but by no means least, I know that the last time the Democrats nominated a pro-lifer to run against Rick Santorum, we lost. Roughly speaking, it seems that every time Pennsylvania gets a "normal" race between a pro-life Republican and a pro-choice Democrat (see, e.g., all those presidential elections) the Democrat wins. Republicans, meanwhile, have managed to win either when they nominate a pro-choice candidate (e.g. Specter) or when the Democrats run a pro-lifer against a pro-lifer (e.g., the Klink-Santorum race).

Now as Atrios wrote yesterday these sort of generic descriptions don't capture everything that's important in a race. Casey, as I understand it, is a popular dude for a whole bunch of reasons. Still, while I encourage Democrats to employ tactical flexibility when running in the red states, and especially to think outside the box in the South (how about a socially conservative African-American?) but Pennsylvania strikes me as fertile ground for some inside-the-box thinking.

February 25, 2005 | Permalink


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Pittsburgh has a lot of Birmingham/Montgomery aspects to it JFTR.

Posted by: praktike | Feb 25, 2005 9:38:47 AM

I refer to the state as "Pennsyl-tucky."

Posted by: Jim E. | Feb 25, 2005 9:45:13 AM

I'm not sure that Susan knows Pennsylvania as well as she thinks. The Philadelphia suburbs are mainly made up of pro-choice ex-Republicans, particularly Montgomery County. The pro-life Democrats live in the formerly union-dominated coal/steel towns like Scranton (where the Casey family is from), Allentown, and to some extent even Pittsburgh. Hell, there might be more pro-life Dems in Philadelphia proper than there are in the suburbs.

You can definitely win as a pro-choicer in Pennsylvania, without all that much difficulty. Even Tom Ridge was pro-choice. Casey is just a unique case. (Klink was a completely different situation. It wasn't just that the guy was pro-life. He was also a total no-name.)

Also, looking over at Atrios, it's really silly for a lot of those folks to refer to Casey as "Republican-lite." I'm sure the "DLC" accusations will come out soon as well. Casey's a social conservative, but like his father, he's really pretty liberal on economic issues, especially labor issues. In the 2002 gubernatorial primary, it was entirely plausible for some to label Rendell (who made his name by busting the public employee unions as mayor of Philadelphia) as the "conservative" and Casey as the "liberal." It all depends on how you look at it.

Posted by: JP | Feb 25, 2005 9:50:58 AM

Pro-life Catholics, I should have said, not pro-life Democrats.

Posted by: JP | Feb 25, 2005 9:52:15 AM

Thanks for making the point about Casey being liberal economically. I was about to do the same. Just because an individual happens to be pro-life, that doesn't mean they are automatically 'Republican-lite.' Casey has been, from my understanding, a very progressive attorney general who differs over one issue.

He appears to be the best candidate to run against Santorum, and that's not because he's pro-life ... but because he is very popular and has a good track record that people sympathize with.

Posted by: Jmac | Feb 25, 2005 9:54:53 AM

Yes, Bush is completely pro-life. I don't see an idota of difference between his "human life platform" and that of the Catholic church. Hey, buy its ok to be responsible for the deaths of other human beings (some were probably innocent) as long as you're a republican.

Posted by: heh | Feb 25, 2005 10:07:47 AM

What about geography? Pennsylvania has a tradition of having each of its Senators hail from opposite sides of the state. Specter is the Eastern PA candidate and Santorum is the Western PA candidate. But Scranton is in Eastern PA (albeit northeastern PA and not Philly). This may actually be a bigger issue for Casey than his position on abortion.

Posted by: Elrod | Feb 25, 2005 10:09:36 AM

Elrod, while I'm no expert on PA politics, I've observed it for enough decades to know that the split you mentioned is NOT usefully described as "eastern PA v. western PA" but as Philly v. Pittsburgh.

The northeast coal belt is firmly regarded as neither. Pittsburgh-area folks will not regard a Scranton-area politician as "eastern PA"; regionally speaking, he will be "not Philly". Frankly, it gives a certain degree of statewide credibility for a Democrat, especially, to be from there.

Posted by: Steady Eddie | Feb 25, 2005 10:44:55 AM

Casey is the strongest candidate to defeat 'Man on Dog' Santorum, who would bring back the ducking stool and the stake, given the chance. . .

Abortion is an issue only if the candidate lets it become one; since both Casey and Santorum are anti abortion, it is out of the equation. The lesser of two evils. . .

Posted by: DAY | Feb 25, 2005 10:51:22 AM

I'm an ardently pro-choice Pennsylvanian, but I'm pretty enthusiastic about Casey. For one, he'll almost certainly beat Santorum, which is just a great, great thing. More importantly, Casey (as well as the Casey family more generally) occupies a political space that used be, but no longer is, the key to Democratic strength in the industrial Northeast and Midwest -- a moralistic approach to both economic and social issues, one specifically concerned with softening the coarseness of modern life. Increasingly, voters concerned with that kind of thing are becoming Republicans as Democrats struggle to incorporate values into their message and the Republicans become more aggressive about using the churches to promote their candidates. This is a trend that needs to be (partially) halted if the Democrats are going to hold on to states like Pennsylvania and Michigan and make in-roads in places like Ohio and Missouri. (Kerry won Pennsylvania by less than Gore did, who, in turn, won it by less than Clinton did. Indeed, Kerry only won it on the strength of a heroic performance by my fellow Philadelphians, something not likely to be repeated in the midterms.) I think Casey, because he isn't a Republican-light, but really is both an authentic Democrat *and* authentically pro-life can help re-brand the party to some extent. I expect that Casey will be especially good at using the values-based case for preserving Social Security to hammer Santorum, which would be very good for our team.

Posted by: pjs | Feb 25, 2005 11:08:08 AM

To rebut a couple of anti-Casey arguments put forward at the end of the last thread, which is probably dead now. (For the record, I don't really have a strong view in either direction as to the desirability of a Casey candidacy. I'm just trying to defend my view of the facts.)

1. Klink, to repeat, did not lose just because he was pro-life. The main problem with Klink is that he was an obscure congressman from Pittsburgh whom nobody outside of Pittsburgh had ever heard of.

Certainly, Klink would have been helped if he had been pro-choice. Maybe he would have won. But it's really stupid to argue: "Hey, Klink was pro-life and he lost to Santorum; Casey is pro-life; therefore Casey would lose to Santorum too, QED!" No. Those two guys are totally different. Casey has huge name recognition, personal popularity, support from unions, and support from the national and state parties. He's already won three statewide elections, and he has the ability to raise money. Klink had none of those things. Politically, those factors more than make up for the fact that Casey lacks the ideal Democrat's position on abortion.

2. Yes, Casey lost to Rendell. This was in a Democratic primary. And it was against a very strong and popular opponent. How does this in any way rebut the idea that Casey would be a strong candidate in a general election? It's pretty common for primary strength and general strength to be uncorrelated.

3. If canvassers and precinct captains sabotage a Casey general election campaign to unseat Rick Santorum, they should all be taken out back and shot. The Democratic Party is a coalition, in which social issues are important, but economic issues are also important. Agitating for a primary is all well and good. But if you would demand union types to support a pro-business pro-choicer in a general election, then simple fairness dictates that you should also support a pro-labor pro-lifer in a general election once the candidate is chosen.

Posted by: JP | Feb 25, 2005 11:10:58 AM

Off-topic, but my daily paper today mentioned that ex-NFLer Lynn Swann is considering a run for governor.

Anybody who knows more about PA than me have any idea what's up with that?

Posted by: litho | Feb 25, 2005 11:11:23 AM

I grew up in the Philly area. The "two ends" joke is accurate, but you need to realize that the middle is more of "T" shape around Philly and Pittsburg. Scranton is in the infamous T.

As for pro-life vs. pro-choice, Pennsylvania has been drifting towards electing moderates for a long time. Specter, Ridge, Rendell, etc. But there is a lot of conservative sentiment in the state too, which is where Santorum comes from. Democrats can usually be pro-choice and successful, republicans don't have as much luxury. Barbara Hafer lost her election run against Casey in large part because she was a pro-choice republican. Ridge got a lot of flack for it too and had to face a third party pro-lifer in Peg Luksik. Specter usually faces a lot of primary opposition from more conservative Republican candidates despite being a well established politician.

As for Rendell being a conservative, not hardly. Yes he started the process of breaking Philadelphia's labor unions that Mayor Street has continued, but those unions largely needed to get broken for financial reasons.

Posted by: Jeff the Baptist | Feb 25, 2005 11:11:55 AM

Swann is an active Republican, AFAIK.

Posted by: praktike | Feb 25, 2005 11:14:07 AM

Jeff, I just meant "conservative" and "liberal" in relative terms.

Lynn Swann spoke at the Republican convention last year. I vaguely remember reading an article somewhere (espn.com?) last fall talking about how Swann and Franco Harris were out campaigning against each other one particular day.

Posted by: JP | Feb 25, 2005 11:22:37 AM

I saw Franco speak ... boring stuff. I saw Lynn Swann at the airport once. No talkie.

Posted by: praktike | Feb 25, 2005 12:08:44 PM

I've been in Philly for six and a half years, and I can confirm what JP and, mostly, Jeff the Baptist have to say. Two points:
1. don't get too carried away with PA trending Dem. GOP controls both state houses, a majority of U.S. House seats and both Senate seats, and Rick Santorum would not have won by double digits, as he did in 2000, even over a no-namer, in any state with a true Democratic edge (with Gore at the top of the ticket).
2. Jeff, Rendell really isn't much of a liberal. He's no conservative, but economically he's a DLC-style New Democrat, who's even made noises recently about privatizing Social Security.

Posted by: The Navigator | Feb 25, 2005 2:48:05 PM

I encourage Democrats to employ tactical flexibility when running in the red states, and especially to think outside the box in the South (how about a socially conservative African-American?)

We tried that in Texas with Ron Kirk. Unfortunately we now have John "Man on Box Turtle" Cornyn to show for it. This isn't to say that strategy wouldn't have more success in the deep south where the African American population is larger and, in my opinion, more politically active.

Maybe if we'd nominated a conservative hispanic... Oh wait, banker Tony Sanchez was as pro business as they come and we still got stuck with Gov. Goodhair Perry.

2002 was just a bad year for Dems

Posted by: brooks | Feb 25, 2005 4:04:33 PM

While I've only observed Penn from afar, in my homestate of Michigan the Democratic Congressional delegation was until redistricting split between pro-choice dems and those who were generally against abortion. Former Minority Whip David Bonior is the most notable; both he and Dale Kildee (Flint) were former seminarians who are staunch liberals on everything but abortion and represent the Catholic social justice tradition that's been eclipsed in the last two decades, mainly by the abortion battles. For years Kildee was my congressman (I even volunteered for him in my youth) and Bonior was _always_ in the news but I was pretty surprised to learn they were out of the party mainstream on this major issue.

The large problem with Casey appears to be his father. At the end of his life Robert Sr. made the abortion war his apparent raison d'etre, picking fights wherever he went--i.e. his attempted 1996 presidential run as he was clearly dying, his refusal to campaign for his pro-choice lt. gov (against the pro-choice Tom Ridge) despite his admirible work while Casey was recovering from heart and lung transplants--you don't have to be paranoid to wonder what he's up to. There were important points Casey needed to remind the party about, that you can be a great democrat despite serious reservations about abortion, as shown by the sadly declining number of pro-life dems like Bonior and Harry Reid. Instead Casey seemed adamant on burning the whole fucking tent down.

I really, really want to believe Casey can beat Santorum, but even more I want to believe he's a democrat who can say "yes, I am pro-life, I will vote that way, but I won't destroy the party doing it." What would that mean? Crossing party lines on individual votes, even (sadly) on things like partial-birth bans. But it would not mean co-sponsoring with Sam Brownback the nexy idiocy to fall stillborn from the brains of Operation Rescue. Or voting wholesale for judges nominated explictly to destroy the Roe-Casey status quo. There's a major difference between voting against abortion rights and actively writing bills and promoting legislation against it. The first, while disappointing, is probably the inevitable cost of having a broadbased coalition large enough to win in a society where people disagree. Those votes can be limited by winning a majority and parliamentary maneuver. The latter is the line where people become actively destructive. Where's Robert Casey Jr.?

Posted by: Friend of Haggai | Feb 25, 2005 7:30:48 PM

Matt, when you say "tactical flexibility", you aren't encouraging Democrats to lie to their constituents, are you?

Posted by: Adam Herman | Feb 25, 2005 11:04:25 PM

Rendell really isn't much of a liberal. He's no conservative, but economically he's a DLC-style New Democrat.

Agreed. Rendell is basically a moderate. Hell he was influential in bringing the 2000 RNC to Philadelphia wasn't he?

Bob Casey Sr. was a pretty admirable man. My parents are both social conservatives (but registered independents) and he was the last Democrat I can think of them voting for. I think a part of the reason he cared about the issue so much was that Republicans were often running vehemently pro-choice candidates like Hafer against him to try to split his party base with the issue. That and he was a devout Irish Catholic of course.

As for Junior, I'm not sure what you think you're going to get from him. Frankly some of this sounds like "hey I realize he's pro-life, but does he have to vote and act that way?" God help us if a man is elected who then acts on his convictions. Convictions you knew about when you voted for him. I'm guessing you'll get a guy similar to Lieberman. He'll vote with the Repubs occassionally, but on the important votes he'll go party line to keep his influence within the party if nothing else.

Posted by: Jeff the Baptist | Feb 25, 2005 11:36:48 PM

"but Pennsylvania strikes me as fertile ground for some inside-the-box thinking."

Well, the inside-the-box thinking I'm aware of is that it's important to open up the Democratic tent to being a comfortable place for pro-life voices within a pro-choice party, much as the Republicans have done in reverse.

- The point isn't specifically whether or not pro-choice candidates can win in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.

- The point is that the best Democratic candidates in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania are pro-life.

So what should be done about that? Should they be purged because they're pro-life? Or should the Party make a point that Democrats are comfortable with 10% to 20% of their officeholders being pro-life.

Put me on the big tent side of the debate.

Posted by: Petey | Feb 26, 2005 4:57:59 AM

I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but pro-choice Ed Rendell trounced ant-choice Casey in 2002 and then went on to demolish anti-choice Mike Fisher to become Governor. And in 2004, pro-choice Arlen Specter withstood a well-funded assault by anti-choice Pat Toomey, for the REPUBLICAN PRIMARY. So what exactly is Casey's trump card?

Posted by: Eligere | Jun 7, 2005 5:04:46 PM

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