The bubble was bound to burst eventually. According to Senate Democratic leadership sources, both Senate minority leader Harry Reid and chief 2006 candidate recruiter Sen. Chuck Schumer had received assurances from presumptive Pennsylvania Democratic Senate nominee Bob Casey, Jr. that he was supportive of Reid's leadership and was comfortable with the party's position on abortion, stem cell research, and the filibustering of President Bush's federal judicial nominees.
According to one of these sources, Casey did not make commitments to voting a certain way on specific legislation or issues, but Reid and Schumer felt comfortable enough with what they heard that they approached the state party apparatus, including Gov. Ed Rendell, about exerting pressure on possible Democratic challengers to Casey in order to clear the field for him.
They also felt comfortable enough sharing their impressions with members of the Democratic Senate caucus, including Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Barbara Boxer, and Sens. Dick Durbin and John Kerry, all of whom expressed doubts about Casey's ability or stomach to stick with them in tough fights on social issues.
"Everyone was assured that Casey was going to hang tough with us on reproductive rights and judges," says a Democratic leadership staffer. "But there was genuine concern that Casey was not going to be a team player. You have to remember, Casey's dad was not popular with the Washington party establishment. It's a natural reaction. They don't want this guy after a couple of years to be another Zell Miller."
Given Casey's low-watt personality, no one would mistake him for a Miller clone, or even a Sam Nunn. But Casey has presented himself as a moderate to conservative Democrat, and has said he shares his late father's pro-life and conservative social policy positions. Schumer surprised some of the Democratic caucus when he made recruitment of Casey a top priority after the 2004 election cycle.
Reid and Schumer's hand-holding and discussion of Casey with their colleagues, according to another leadership aide, was also born out of the need to stem a possible break within the caucus that would have seen some liberal members encouraging a primary challenger to Casey.
"There was some concern that they might be seeing some Democratic version of Steve Moore or the Club for Growth up there," says the staffer. "The field had generally been cleared, but there are a lot of Democrats in Pennsylvania that are not happy about how this thing was done. Schumer wanted to at least try to put off any problems that might divert the party from a clear challenge to [Sen. Rick] Santorum."
Santorum is the Democrats' top target in 2006. The conservative Republican has been attempting to shore up his support among Catholics and social conservatives after some political and strategic missteps in the 2004 election cycle. There is growing sense among Republicans that he has righted the campaign ship, and growing doubts about Casey's political positions should help him.
DICK LUGAR HEARS IT
Senate Foreign Relations chairman Richard Lugar was slapped down pretty hard for his tepid remarks about President Bush's U.N. ambassador nominee, John Bolton. The senior Indiana senator and other Republicans quickly heard from Bolton supporters outside the Administration. According to Republican sources, lobbyists for the National Rifle Association were on Capitol Hill last week meeting with Senators.
"The message was clear: the Bolton confirmation vote was a litmus test for conservative groups here in Washington and around the country," says the staffer for a Midwestern Republican. "They don't want this vote to be 52-48. Conservatives want this vote to be a statement to the U.N. and its supporters."
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