January 14, 2019
G. Terry Madonna & Michael L.Young
Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Robert Casey has been an enormously successful politician, winning six statewide elections by substantial margins - twice as Auditor General, once as State Treasurer and three times as U.S. Senator. The scope and magnitude of his many victories reveal wide appeal across the political spectrum.
Casey has indicated he might seek the Democratic nomination for president. So far, however, he has not set up an exploratory committee, put together any campaign staff, or taken any visible steps to pursue a candidacy.
Casey is not notably outspoken, normally eschews controversy, and generally has not sought a national profile. Yet on some big culture issues he has modified his positions. He’s personally pro-life and opposes abortion after 20 weeks, while strongly supporting Planned Parenthood. He has supported new gun restrictions, favoring universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and a ban on bump stocks.
The Senator might be described as a moderate Democrat in a party moving leftward, making him appear to be an unlikely candidate. But Electoral College geopolitics could make Casey an attractive candidate.
Trump’s 2016 win depended on his successful rust belt Electoral College strategy, bringing victory in Pennsylvania as well as Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. Winning in 2020 hinges on winning those states again – and Casey on the ticket probably takes Pennsylvania out of Trump’s coalition.
Casey on the ticket also could go far to neutralize the Trump advantage gained in the rust belt from his harsh criticism of America’s trade policies. Casey, too, has been a leading critic of traditional trade policies attacking both the Trans-Pacific Partnership and NAFTA. Unlike many in his party Casey has also maintained close contact with working class voters and the unions that represent them reflecting his deep roots in labor issues affecting working men and women.
If Casey does decide to seek the presidency, he would not be the first Pennsylvanian in modern times to do that. Many have been called, alas none have been chosen.
The moderate Governor Bill Scranton, under considerable pressure from other moderates, ran for the Republican nomination in 1964, in a last gasp unsuccessful effort to stop conservative Barry Goldwater. Then, in 1976, Gov. Milton Shapp also ran, but received little national attention, and even less support. In the Florida primary, he came in behind “no preference.” Senator Arlen Specter made a brief run for the Republican nomination in 1996, a nomination eventually won by Bob Dole. Specter’s campaign did exploratory trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, attracting virtually no support.
The most successful candidacy was Senator Rick Santorum’s in 2012. Santorum actually ran twice for the Republican nomination. But In 2012, he ran aggressively winning 11 delegate selection contests and almost four million votes. Ultimately, he was overwhelmed by eventual nominee Mitt Romney’s huge financial and organizational advantages. Santorum withdrew from the contest in early April 2012, technically the GOP runner-up. His second effort in 2016 did not make it past the Iowa caucus.
In 2020, more than 25 Democrats are seriously considering seeking the Democratic nomination. The viability of a Casey candidacy in a field of this size is uncertain. But his political bona fides mentioned above would make him a solid choice for the second spot on the ticket. There would be little controversy over his selection as the vice-presidential candidate.
If so, Casey will join at least four other Pennsylvanian’s considered in recent times.
In 1976, Reagan picked Pennsylvanian Richard Schweiker for his running mate. Prematurely it turned out, since Reagan later lost the presidential nomination to Gerald Ford. Eight years later Walter Mondale briefly considered Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode before picking Geraldine Ferraro. In 1992, Harris Wofford made Bill Clinton’s short list before Clinton picked Al Gore.
The last Pennsylvanian to get serious consideration for the vice-presidential nomination was Tom Ridge in 2000. The popular governor was considered by George W. Bush, actually filled out a presidential questionnaire and began the vetting process. He ultimately withdrew his name, however, and Bush eventually chose Dick Cheney.
No Pennsylvanian has served in the vice presidency since the 1840’s when George Dallas was Vice President in the administration of James K. Polk. Dallas is the only Pennsylvanian to serve as Vice President while James Buchanan is the only Pennsylvanian elected president. Part of the reason for this long dearth of Pennsylvanians in the White House is the workings of the Electoral College.
Pennsylvania is a highly prized electoral college win. Nevertheless, during much of its history it consistently has been “safe” for one party or the other.That dramatically is not the case today with a “purple” Pennsylvania among a small group of states that will determine the next president.
Having a Pennsylvanian on the ticket in 2020 could be a huge advantage seeking the presidency. That salient fact is unlikely to escape either party as we approach the 2020 election.
Politically Uncorrected™ is published twice monthly, and previous columns can be viewed at http://www.fandm.edu/politics. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any institution or organization with which they are affiliated. This article may be used in whole or part only with appropriate attribution. Copyright © 2019 Terry Madonna and Michael Young