By any standard that's a good sized campaign contribution. It may also be turning out to be one more hurdle in an increasing series of self-created stumbling blocks in Pennsylvania State Treasurer Robert Casey, Jr.'s campaign to oust Republican Senator Rick Santorum.
Records on file with the Federal Election Commission reveal that MoveOn.org, the far-left interest group, has "bundled" $168,591 for Casey's Senate campaign.
The problem? MoveOn is increasingly being accused of pushing an anti-Semitic agenda, as the folks over at Israpundit have documented in great detail here here. The language from participants in MoveOn's "Action Forum" has been so raw ("jew Lieberman," "media-owning Jewish pigs" and much more -- and worse) that it drew the ire of Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League. While MoveOn's Eli Pariser eventually apologized and removed the offending posts, articles (as opposed to reader comments) that charged Jews in the Bush administration with "dual loyalties" to America and Israel have also appeared. The thrust of these pieces is that Jewish Americans in government cannot be trusted to put America's interests first.
Were Casey elected he would be working side-by-side with Pennsylvania's senior Senator, Republican Arlen Specter. Specter, of course, is Jewish. As is Pennsylvania Governor and Casey's fellow Democrat Ed Rendell.
Having been around Pennsylvania politics myself I must emphasize that no one seriously believes Casey, Jr. is an anti-Semite. The problem here is that the acceptance of MoveOn's bundled money displays poor judgment. The refusal to quickly return it or even refuse to do so adds to a growing portrait of an uncertain candidate. Coming on the heels of what was a poor debate performance against the seasoned-Santorum, the deer-in-the-headlights refusal to quickly stand up and condemn MoveOn and give back the money exacerbates a sharpening image of a candidate not-ready-for-prime-time in Washington.
Contrast this, for example, with the post-9/11 presentation of a check for $10 million to then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani by Saudi Prince Al-Walid bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz. Giuliani accepted the check, giving the Prince a personal tour of the rubble of the World Trade Center. Hours afterward the Prince said elsewhere that the cause for the attack was in part American support for Israel, excusing the perpetrators. Giuliani, infuriated at the idea the Prince was providing justification for the 9/11 attackers, instantly -- and very publicly -- returned the check, issuing a stinging rebuke to Aziz. It is precisely this kind of decisive leadership that has launched Giuliani as a potential presidential nominee.
Casey has had increasing problems in this campaign. Outside of the state analysts tend to miss the hot-button sensitivity to the furor raised over a middle-of-the-night pay raise state legislators gave to themselves in July of 2005. The move, by a Republican-controlled state House and Senate but with overwhelming support from Democrats, ignited a bipartisan firestorm against state legislative incumbents of both parties. In an unprecedented grassroots rebellion that brought together a coalition of conservatives, liberals and the media the pay raise was eventually rescinded. But not before doing serious damage to all the legislators who voted for the raise, plus Governor Rendell, who signed the legislation into law. Two long-serving GOP leaders responsible for the raise were defeated in upsets in the May primary. But there was another participant: State Treasurer Casey, the man who signed the checks without complaint. Eventually rescinding his support only when it was obvious the pay raise would be undone, Casey signaled that he was most decidedly not the type to withstand political pressures from his friends in the Harrisburg political establishment. In their Meet the Press showdown Santorum, pressing the point on this, rendered Casey to a muttering silence, prompting host Tim Russert to prod Casey, "Are you going to respond?"
In another development from Meet the Press, Casey signaled a departure from his presumably rigorous pro-life stance: his support of the so-called Plan B morning-after pill. Santorum quickly fingered this as a classic Casey attempt to "middle" another position, trying to appeal to pro-choice voters Casey must win over to be elected. In a pointed exchange, Santorum noted that Casey's father, who never hesitated on any issue -- much less his vigorous pro-life position on abortion -- "would be very upset" if he heard his son be supportive of an issue championed by pro-abortion supporters.
Taken together, from the refusal to buck MoveOn.org on anti-Semitism, his pay raise buddies in the legislature, or the powerful pro-choice lobby in the state Democratic Party, Casey is emerging as a man out of his depth in this race.
IT IS WORTH NOTING THAT Casey's father began running determinedly for Governor of Pennsylvania as a freshman state senator, losing his first bid in 1966. For the next twenty years Casey Sr. concentrated on the complexities of state government, losing two more gubernatorial races in 1970 and 1978 and serving as Auditor General before finally winning in 1986. Other than a flirtation with the presidency at the end of his career, a move generated mostly by his fury at the pro-abortion culture of the Clinton administration and the national Democratic Party, his entire focus was on state government, not federal issues.
So too has been his son's focus, serving as both Auditor General and State Treasurer with an unsuccessful governor's primary race against Rendell in between. Casey Jr.'s familiarity with state issues is so thorough that it highlights a seeming discomfort when he deals hesitantly with federal issues -- ranging from Iraq to cutting government programs -- as he did on Meet the Press. What Casey brings to the table is vote-getting ability in state-office elections, trading on the famous Casey name, not a knowledge of Washington and world affairs. His appearances in this race sometimes seem almost diffident, as if he knows that he's doing this for the team (he was recruited by Democratic Senatorial Campaign Chairman and New York Senator Charles Schumer as well as Rendell) rather than because of any burning ambition to be a United States Senator from Pennsylvania. He comes across as a man distracted from his ambition to be governor.
It is a considerable contrast with Santorum, who, if re-elected, may in fact rise higher still in the Senate GOP leadership than his current number three position. In a chamber where Senators take the Senate seriously, Santorum's prospective promotion and the extraordinary effort MoveOn and others on the left have vested in defeating him mark his arrival at a very young age as a senatorial heavyweight.
SO WHAT WILL CASEY DO about his MoveOn.org problem? Santorum's campaign has already pounced on the issue. Calling MoveOn "one of the most extreme organizations in the country," Santorum's press secretary promptly called on Casey to account for accepting support from a group that was "even going so far as to suggest the U.S. should use restraint in responding to the September 11th attacks. It's no surprise that Bob Casey's been silent about MoveOn's recent comments since they've helped raise him nearly $170,000."
What was Casey's response to whether he would consider returning MoveOn's money when his campaign was repeatedly contacted? Silence. Nothing. Nada.
After lagging repeatedly, Santorum is rapidly gaining in the polls. It doesn't take a wizard to wonder why.
For more than 168,591 reasons, it is entirely possible that when it comes to the November election, it will be Casey whom Pennsylvania voters ask to move on from a job in the United States Senate.
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