Pennsylvania Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., running for the Senate seat currently held by Rick Santorum, has a bit of a problem. You see he’s having some issues with defining himself. Casey wants to win, although the presumption is that he’ll find himself running for something else before he’s able to fulfill his six-year term, but to do that he first needs to figure out who he really is. Is he pro-life, or pro-choice? Is he a moderate Democrat, or a very liberal one? Is he a hawk, or a dove? These are all questions that Casey has been deftly dodging as he attempts to run his stealth campaign.
Thus far, the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race has revolved almost entirely around Santorum. While politically this is a smart move for Casey, at some point the charade will have to end and he will have to take positions on issues. Sure, Casey has made some statements here and there about what he would or would not do. But those statements are many times contradictory, and Casey has yet to decide if he will be wooing the radical leftists whose money and passion he will surely need if he hopes to topple Santorum, of if he will be wooing moderate Democrats and Republicans, whose votes in the more conservative center of the state could be what puts him over the top.
Casey is running the ultimate challenger’s campaign: attack, attack, attack the incumbent. Keep the conversation from revolving around your own candidacy and make the election a referendum on the incumbent. What the Casey campaign fails to realize is that, no matter how much trouble the incumbent appears to be in, at some point you have to give the voters a reason to vote for you rather than just against your opponent. And here is where Casey’s real problems begin to surface.
Casey is a "pro-life" Democrat who has said that he would block pro-life judges from getting their court appointments. Casey talks strong on illegal immigration but says that he would have voted for the Senate’s "comprehensive reform" bill that would have granted amnesty to millions and required the United States government to consult with Mexico prior to building any sort of wall. In both cases, Casey wants the moderates to hear the former and the liberals the latter, with neither really thinking too hard about where Casey really stands on issues.
Bob Casey is a professional candidate running for this third office in four years. This makes Casey something of a slippery snake on issues; having learned that taking a strong stand on issues will result in one group or another deciding not to vote for you. Casey also understands the predicament that Santorum is in. Santorum has low approval ratings, likely because of his national leadership role, which the electorate may see as making him responsible for their dissatisfaction with what is happening in the nation today. Casey also holds a comfortable lead over Santorum in every poll conducted. By slithering this way and that on every issue imaginable, Casey avoids two scenarios that could result in a Santorum win.
The first is that which I discussed above. Casey is in the unique position of needing both the radical liberals and the moderates in order to defeat Santorum, especially with Santorum’s war chest growing daily. The second, however, is a bit more sneaky and subtle. Santorum has a problem with his base right now, and any student of Pennsylvania politics will tell you that Santorum has overcome insurmountable odds as a result of his passionate, energized base of conservatives. One thing that could potentially ignite this lethal spark of activism on Santorum’s behalf would be if Casey appears to be too liberal.
Right now, many conservatives are still up in the air, or at least are not as impassioned and active as they have been in elections past. This is largely a result of there being an impression that Casey isn’t that liberal. However, if Casey begins to take strong positions that favor liberals, Santorum’s conservative base may suddenly find time to make those phone calls, find real estate on their bumpers reserved for those Rick ’06 stickers, and may suddenly see lots of ideal places for yard signs. Conservatives have pulled Rick out of the depths of electoral doom before, and the Casey campaign is very cognizant of that fact.
Casey will continue his tight rope act for as long as he can manage it. In the mean time, Santorum has (smartly) gone up on television with an ad about immigration, reminding his base that they need his conservative voice on defense and foreign policy. Eventually, Casey is going to be forced into taking some positions. The question is when he does, will he be moderate Casey who will disenfranchise the liberal base, or will he be liberal Casey who ignites the passionate opposition of conservatives? Only Casey knows the answer to that, but rest assured that the rest of us are waiting with baited breath for the answer.