As midterm elections quickly approach, polls have focused on key Senate races, including those in Nevada, Tennessee, and Texas. Yet one race that has not garnered much attention is Pennsylvania's Senate election — where Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) is up for reelection this year for his third term in Congress.
On the surface, Pennsylvania should be a tight race: In 2016, President Trump carried the state and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) was reelected to the Senate, where he's served since 2011. RealClearPolitics has Casey's race listed as "Likely Democratic," with its polling average giving the incumbent a 16-point lead over his challenger Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa. 11th District).
Nevertheless, Penn Democrats have been organizing in support of Casey despite his healthy leads in the polls, illustrating Democrats' eagerness to defend blue seats and give the party the best chance possible to reclaim the Senate.
The race for the chamber has assumed increased relevance in recent weeks following the heated confirmation process of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was sworn in this month after facing allegations of sexual assault. Casey, along with 47 other senators, voted against his confirmation.
“It’s very clear how important the Senate is and how important these positions are,” Gabrielle Fink, Penn Dems political director and College junior, said. “Every single vote matters so much and that’s why we are paying such close attention to the race here in Pennsylvania.”
Through Penn Dems' canvassing efforts in key congressional races in the state, such as for Susan Wild and Scott Wallace, the group has also been pushing voters to reelect Casey.
“We’re focusing primarily on a lot of congressional races, while we still need to fight really hard to make sure Bob Casey remains in the Senate,” Jack Weisman, Penn Dems communications director and College junior said. “When you’re canvassing, you talk about Democrats up and down the ballot, and that means Democrats at the top of the ticket like Bob Casey who may not be super vulnerable. But we’re still trying to get out the vote for [him].”
But why has Casey’s route to reelection appeared so smooth compared to other Democrats fighting in states that voted for Trump in 2016?
For Weisman, some of Casey’s success is a result of his appeal to Democrats who may have chosen Trump two years ago.
“Casey has historically been very good for a Democrat at conveying an economic message to some of the traditional Democrats in Pennsylvania who may have voted for Trump in 2016,” Weisman said. “Pennsylvania is a pretty evenly divided state, and when you look at how fed up people are right now with the Trump administration, that translates to a pretty healthy lead in a close state like Pennsylvania.”
The Democrat's lead in the polls can also be attributed to a region-wide phenomenon across the Midwest, a trend that has Pennsylvania behaving like a Midwestern state, Political Science professor Marc Meredith said.
"It seems as if the Midwest in the polling data is trending more Democratic than the rest of the country," Meredith said, referencing the Senate races in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. "It's less of a Casey factor, and more of a general regional factor that is explaining it.
Penn Dems members also pointed to the policies and ideology of Casey’s challenger, Rep. Lou Barletta, as a reason for the Democrat’s wide advantage.
As mayor of Hazleton, Pa., Barletta implemented a controversial anti-illegal immigration act in 2006 that prohibited employers and landlords from hiring and renting to illegal immigrants. The American Civil Liberties Union sued and challenged that the law was unconstitutional as it violated federal immigration policy at the time, and a federal judge ruled in the ACLU’s favor in 2007.
“With immigration being a hot topic right now, there’s a really huge difference between the two candidates here in Pennsylvania,” Fink said. “I think people see that and that’s why this race has not been particularly a toss-up.”
Weisman echoed these sentiments and criticized Barletta for “hardline” immigration policies and his close ties to Trump.
“Lou Barletta really represents everything terrible in the Republican party right now,” Weisman said. “He basically seems to do whatever Donald Trump tells him to do, and I think the voters of Pennsylvania just don’t want to see that.”
Casey, on the other hand, has done an impressive job of standing up to the president’s policies, Weisman said. And Penn Dems Legislative Director and Wharton junior Celina Lin also commended the senator for being passionate and attuned to his constituents.
“One of the reasons I support Senator Casey is because you can just tell he genuinely cares about the people he’s serving,” Lin said.
With the election under a month away, Lin urged Penn students to show up at the polls and buck the trend of the disaffected youth voter.
“Nothing’s going to change unless we do something about it,” Lin said. “If you’re not happy with the way things are, if you feel like politicians don’t care about you, then make your voice heard and make them listen to you.”
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