Obama and Casey's Mutually Helpful Friendship
By Shailagh Murray
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Hopefully Ted Kennedy isn't the jealous type, because it looks like Barack Obama has a new best friend: Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
Their weekend road show across the Keystone State stopped at factories, hot dog stands, sports bars and bowling alleys, where the two kept score as "Bar" and "Bob." The freshmen senators played basketball, milked cows in matching new Timberland boots, and shared the stage here Sunday at Penn State University before 22,000 cheering fans.
Casey's surprise endorsement last week brightened what had been a bleak electoral landscape for Obama in Pennsylvania. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton remains the clear favorite to win the state, but this is an alliance that looks beyond the April 22 primary and it could yield dividends for both men.
For Obama, Casey is the gatekeeper to the older, working-class, white voters who form the core of the Clinton constituency and who must turn out strongly in November for Obama, should he emerge as the Democratic nominee. These so-called "Casey Democrats" revered Casey's late father, former governor Bob Casey Sr., and helped Casey Jr. easily defeat Republican Sen. Rick Santorum in 2006.
For Casey, Obama's base of college students, African Americans and upper-income voters are vital to broadening the 47-year-old former state auditor's appeal beyond the smokestack set, should he run again for governor. In 2002, Casey lost a bitter Democratic primary battle with Edward Rendell, the former Philadelphia mayor, for his father's old job. Rendell won the general election and now backs Clinton in the Democratic presidential race.
Before Casey endorsed Obama, "I didn't know anything about him," said Penn State student Molly O'Rourke. An Obama volunteer, O'Rourke, 19, grew up Philadelphia, and this is her first foray into politics. But now, she said, Casey also is on her radar screen.
Casey's presence eased what could have been some awkward moments during a weekend of small events and spontaneous drop-bys through the Clinton heartland of western Pennsylvania. At the Altoona, Pa., bowling alley, Obama rolled a gutter ball on his first try - but so did Casey. The two worked the lanes to greet locals, even crashing Sweet 16 and birthday parties to say hello.
"I think it's wonderful he came," said Jean Montgomery, 57, co-owner of the Pleasant Valley Recreation Center. "He's very friendly. ... Probably now that he came in, I will support him."
The camaraderie between Casey and Obama is not surprising. They are about the same age, they both have daughters, and they represent a new generation of lawmakers in Washington who are less ideologically rigid than their forebears.
Like his father, Casey is staunchly pro-life. Bob Casey Sr. refused to endorse Bill Clinton in 1992 over the issue of abortion and was denied a speaking role at the Democratic convention as a result. His son, however, does not view Roe v. Wade as a political litmus test. "If you talk about only one issue, that's going to prevent you from solving a lot of problems," he said in an interview.
Obama spoke gushingly of Casey at the Penn State rally: "He is not just smart, not just dedicated, not just hardworking -- one of the finest senators we have -- but he's also a decent, moral, kind person, and you don't always find that in politics."
Casey, low-key and serious around the Capitol, sounded dazzled by his new friend: "I've been around politics my whole life. I've been through some rough, rough politics. And I must say, he's inspired me."
Other than his father, Casey added, "I've never believed in any national politician like this, not even close."
That doesn't mean Obama will win Pennsylvania. The primary may not even be close, Casey said, given the Clintons' deep roots in the state. "Hillary Clinton chaired several health care hearings here in 1993. Think about it -- that's almost a generation ago," said Casey. "But the reaction at that bowling alley, it was intense. People really wanted to meet him."
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