Facing re-election year, Casey parts with Obama on jobs bill

Facing a tough re-election year, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania has criticized President Barack Obama’s jobs proposal. Casey told Pittsburgh TV station KDKA last week he believes the president’s plan should be split into separate bills.

“I’m afraid if we tried to pass one big bill, I think there’s a lot of skepticism about big pieces of legislation with all kinds of different component parts,” Casey told the station’s Jon Delano. “We should break this up.”

While it appears Casey is striking a more independent posture, he brings substantial assets into his 2012 re-election contest.

Casey is the son of a two-term governor and bearer of a blue-chip name in Pennsylvania politics. He’s a pro-gun, anti-abortion Democrat who’s campaigned on bread-and-butter economic issues, a good fit for the state’s moderate Democrats.

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Still, Obama’s ratings have slumped; last week, Democrats lost a New York City congressional seat. Muhlenberg College political science professor Chris Borick said, in that context, Casey’s move makes political sense.

“By being critical of the president at this time, you can say that you haven’t been on board with everything he’s put forward and that you see places where you recommended changes, especially on economic and job matters,” Borick said.

Polls show Casey vulnerable, but far from headed to certain defeat. He still leads generic Republican opponents in recent surveys.

More than a half-dozen Republicans have expressed an interest in the race, but they aren’t names many would recognize.

One, Chester County businessman Steven Welch has personal wealth to commit. He’s engaged John Brabender, one of the state’s most prominent Republican media consultants.

Not making the leap are Republicans such as Delaware County Congressman Pat Meehan, former Gov. Mark Schweiker or former gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann.

Costly race anticipated

State GOP Chairman Rob Gleason said it’s not surprising prominent Republicans haven’t rushed in.

“You’ve got to want to be elected in order to be successful,” Gleason said. “We’ve got a big state. You’re going to have to raise $20 million to $30 million. It’s going to take a huge commitment to be successful.”

Democratic State Chairman Jim Burn said Casey’s comments on the Obama jobs bill are nothing more than a reflection of his genuine independence. And he said it’s telling that the Republicans haven’t coming up with a well-known candidate yet.

“The Republican party is divided. Tea party extremism has brought it to its knees. They cannot work in a bipartisan fashion.” Burn said. “That split in the Republican Party is a significant reason why they have failed to find a credible candidate.”

Burn said the election will turn on the economy and which candidate’s policies the voters trust. Gleason said Casey will have to swim against national currents which favored him when he unseated Rick Santorum in 2006.

“The Republican party and Rick Santorum were blamed for all the ills of the Bush administration,” Gleason said. “Turnabout is fair play, so now we have a senator out there who is going to be blamed for all the ills of the Obama administration.”

Gleason said any Republican contender who wants to be seriously regarded will have to raise $1 million by the end of the year.

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