John Baer: DESPERATELY SEEKING ANTI-CASEY

Posted: December 07, 2011

PENNSYLVANIA's Republican Party finds itself in a situation not all that different from the one facing the national GOP.

Both have the opportunity to run against a Democratic incumbent who ought to be vulnerable in a lousy economy (Sen. Bob Casey, President Obama), yet both have problems finding a credible candidate to do so.

Yes, there's support for anybody-but-Obama, and some call Casey "Sen. Zero" for doing little but supporting the president's policies and programs.

Yes, both have approval ratings in the 40 percent range, but both also have real campaigns, lots of money and, in the case of Casey, a name that's never lost a Pennsylvania general election.

The national GOP still is lifting candidates up and down before, if logic dictates, it settles on Mitt Romney. The state GOP is nowhere near finding the anti-Casey.

The annual Pennsylvania Society gig this weekend in New York City might help.

Among the round-robin of receptions, fundraisers, dinners and luncheons is a GOP Senate debate Friday afternoon at the Plaza Hotel.

Hosted by the Pennsylvania Business Council, an advocacy group for large corporations, at least seven of 10 declared candidates are to take part.

Council President Dave Patti says his group "has not taken a stance on Casey's re-election or a preference regarding GOP contenders," though it might later.

The field isn't filled with big names: rich-guy entrepreneurs Tim Burns of Washington County and Steve Welch of Chester County; Scranton Tea Party founder Laureen Cummings; Bedford County pharmacist John Kensinger; Bucks County manufacturing exec David Christian; Harrisburg lawyer Marc Scaringi; former coal exec Tom Smith of Armstrong County; retired Army Sgt. Robert Mansfield of Philadelphia; retired Army Col. John Vernon of Tioga County, and former Berks County state Rep. Sam Rohrer.

State Senate Leader Dominic Pileggi recently looked at the race for about 10 minutes, but said Monday that he's not in it.

State Sen. Jake Corman, of Centre County, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was to run but backed out in July citing personal and political reasons.

Party officials talked with others, including U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley and House GOP Leader Mike Turzai, to no avail.

So, top state Republicans are privately frustrated at potentially forfeiting a shot to win a Senate seat, and are publicly unenthusiastic about the campaign ahead.

National GOP Committeeman Bob Asher, for example, tells me that he's "involved in a number of races, including state attorney general and legislative races."

State GOP Chairman Rob Gleason could say only that he's "not completely disappointed" in the GOP field and hopes that the party endorses a Senate candidate in late January.

He recovered slightly, adding that he sees Casey as beatable next November: "Remember, he got elected saying [Rick] Santorum should lose for voting with President Bush 98 percent of the time, so he can expect to hear that he should lose for voting with President Obama 98 percent of the time."

Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association boss Fred Anton, a veteran Republican who hosts a popular political forum in New York each Pennsylvania Society weekend, has eight speakers scheduled this year, including Casey, but none of his potential challengers.

Party insiders point to Casey's personal likability, a million-plus Democratic voter registration edge and unmatched name ID.

That combination, they concede, presents more of a problem for the GOP than any real opportunity.


For recent columns, go to

philly.com/JohnBaer. Read his blog at www.philly.com/BaerGrowls.

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