As a veteran of five such confabs, I can tell you that, really, nothing happens at a political convention except a lot of speechifying and inspired delegate accessorizing, though Strom Thurmond did once offer me a seat on his lap. Another time, I was part of a group of reporters who persuaded Jerry Falwell to mount an ox at the Hunt ranch outside Dallas.
But, back to the Senate races. Bob Casey is up for reelection. Who? He is a Democrat and Pennsylvania's senior senator. The amazing thing about Casey is that, while being largely unknown, having perfected the art of dullness, he is believed to be so wildly popular that no Republican stands a chance against him. In these divisive times, this is possibly the greatest success a politician can achieve.
The senator's opponent is Tom Smith, a name even less memorable than Casey's speeches. The tea party conservative from Armstrong County, near Pittsburgh, won the five-man GOP primary in April, besting the candidate Gov. Corbett tapped. That's because Smith, running as a folksy political neophyte, is worth an estimated $60 million from working in the coal industry, contributing $6.5 million of his money (so far) to the campaign.
Every poll finds Casey is poised to trounce Smith in November, yet a recent Franklin & Marshall survey reveals that almost 40 percent of Pennsylvania's voters remain undecided, possibly because no one knows there's a U.S. Senate race.
So, consider this your wake-up call.
Let's talk about those undecideds, shall we, the great persistent time and spending suck of most elections. These folks are the narcissists, the bottomless pools of need, who command all the attention though they really don't deserve it because, given such divisive times, it's hard to believe voters are having trouble making up their minds. Indeed, political scientists and polling experts say the undecided voter is a myth, the New York Times recently reported, and most "independents" vote reliably with one party or the other.
While there is a certain "je ne sais meh" factor to both Casey and Smith, they differ hugely on the issues, an ideological chasm separating them. Casey may be dull and silent - unusual qualities in an elected official, though easier to pull off when your late father was governor - but he's a consistent progressive Democrat. He agrees with President Obama on virtually all issues, save one. Smith may be unknown - that same survey found almost 70 percent of voters haven't a clue who he is - but he opposes Obama on everything. Casey and Smith are both foes of abortion but, otherwise, good luck finding common ground.
New Jersey's junior senator, Democrat Bob Menendez, is running against Joe Kyrillos. The veteran state senator is great buddies with the GOP convention keynoter, Gov. Christie, but still unlikely to win.
Kyrillos said last week that he was open to the idea of "smart" tax increases on wealthy residents and wouldn't sign Grover Norquist's antitax pledge, which most Republicans support.
Wait, let's try this again: A REPUBLICAN SAID LAST WEEK THAT HE WAS OPEN TO "SMART" TAX INCREASES ON WEALTHY RESIDENTS AND WOULDN'T SIGN GROVER NORQUIST'S ANTITAX PLEDGE.
Mind you, Kyrillos didn't elaborate on what "smart" means or offer many specifics, though he mentioned taxing hedge-fund managers, a crowd-pleaser every time. Possibly, Kyrillos was referring to how smart it is to distance himself from Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in the very blue state of New Jersey, which hasn't elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since Watergate.
Also, in adorable Delaware, incumbent Democrat Tom Carper is being challenged by Kevin Wade, who - unlike the state's last Republican senatorial candidate, Christine O'Donnell - has not mentioned sex or witchcraft and, therefore, has received scant attention.
Contact Karen Heller
at 215-854-2586 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @kheller.