It’s not all that surprising that Bob Casey said he’s a “no” vote even before President Trump announced the nomination Monday night of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
Casey’s a voice of opposition to Trump on almost all fronts, including white-hot immigration policy.
Now, the two-term senator says he objected to Trump’s picking any justice from a list provided by the “extreme right” Heritage Foundation, which Casey paints as out to gut Medicaid for children, seniors and the disabled, and bust up labor unions.
In a statement about 10 hours before Trump announced his pick on Monday, Casey called the president’s actions “a corrupt bargain with the far right, big corporations, and Washington special interests.”
He said, “I was not elected to genuflect to the far right, who are funded by corporate America.”
The word that struck me was genuflect. Reminds me of the Catholic Church and its teachings. Which reminds me that Trump’s nominee is viewed as a precursor to the most realistic chance in 45 years of ending or further restricting legal abortion by stacking the high court to overturn or narrow its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.
That got me thinking that some might wonder why a Catholic self-proclaimed antiabortion senator — son of a governor who fought long, hard and nationally to outlaw abortion — would walk away from such an opportunity, and whether such a walkaway might cost him votes as he seeks reelection this year.
So, I asked: Does Casey believe Roe should be overturned?
His office sent this: “While Sen. Casey is opposed to Roe, he continues to focus on finding areas of common ground to help pregnant women and families while reducing the number of abortions.”
I get that abortion is just one issue of many that Casey and his Senate challenger, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, differ on. (Barletta believes Roe should be overturned and the abortion issue sent back to the states.) But few issues are as polarizing or as determinative for many voters.
Barletta, at a Harrisburg news conference Tuesday, said, “The Bob Casey that was elected in 2006 is much different than the Bob Casey that is on the ballot in 2018.”
And that’s true in many ways. But does Casey’s position on abortion cost him votes in November?
“It’s not the position of the conservative pro-life movement,” said GOP strategist Jeff Coleman, founder of Central Pennsylvania-based Churchill Strategies, adding that “in pockets of the state and among Catholics, enthusiasm [for Casey] will dampen.”
(In 2007-08, Casey’s rating was 57 percent. And he did vote this past January to ban abortion after 20 weeks, a month earlier than current law allows.)
Still, despite Casey’s displaying some – your choice – backsliding or evolution on the issue, political science professor Thomas Baldino, at Wilkes University in Casey’s home region, thinks the senator will be fine.
Baldino noted that Casey’s Monday statement didn’t mention abortion but focused on health care, corporate power and unions: “This is Democratic populism.”
Baldino also said Casey won two Senate elections with appeal that goes beyond his abortion stance, adding that Casey’s voting against Kavanaugh “will not damage him with people who supported him in the past.”
Casey also voted against Trump’s first SCOTUS pick, now-Justice Neil Gorsuch, last year. But, at the time, Gorsuch’s addition to the court was not a looming threat to Roe.
The state of the Casey/Barletta race prior to Casey’s avowed opposition to any Trump nominee strongly favored Casey. He’s way ahead in the money game. And national punditry such as the Cook Report and Inside Elections put the race as “likely” Casey. Larry Sabato, at the University of Virginia, rated it “safe” for Casey.
Whether that changes because of renewed attention to abortion, and therefore to Casey’s stance, depends on how and how long Kavanaugh’s confirmation process plays out. And how fired up voters on either side of the issue become.