Casey, a three-term senator who has built such a mild-mannered reputation been compared to oatmeal, is in the crosshairs of national Republican leaders. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has has identified Casey as one of its top targets in 2024going so far as to rank his seat next to those held by Senate Democrats in solidly red states like West Virginia and Montana.
Republicans are desperately trying to lure former business executive David McCormick into the race, whom they consider the best possible challenger. The party establishment caught a breather this week when MAGA state senator Doug Mastriano announced that he would not be running for Senate « at this time, » potentially paving the way for McCormick’s nomination.
But behind the scenes, elected officials, strategists and GOP donors are still not optimistic about their chances against Casey. They are well aware that he has won all of his Senate elections by almost double digits. They know he’s a fixture in the state and the son of the late anti-abortion governor Robert Casey, Sr. And because working-class white voters have run away from most Democrats, GOP insiders fear Casey still has a taken over many of them, in part because of his surname.
“Bob Casey is a political kingpin in Pennsylvania. He’s a sitting senator who is loved, » said Republican Carla Sands, ambassador to Denmark under former President Donald Trump who ran unsuccessfully for Senate in the state last year. « I think he’s tough to beat . «
If Trump wins the presidential nomination, some Republicans fear he would make an already difficult situation nearly impossible. They fear that Trump, who lost Pennsylvania to President Joe Biden in 2020, could be a roadblock for no-vote candidates and force them to answer for his unpredictable comments. While deciding whether to run, McCormick himself is weighing the prospect of running alongside Trump, according to two Republicans close to him.
“It certainly makes it harder for a Republican to win the Senate race if Trump is definitely on the ticket. For a Republican to beat Casey, I think the GOP presidential candidate has to win Pennsylvania,” said Josh Novotney, a Pennsylvania-based Republican strategist. “Casey is more popular than Biden in Pennsylvania and will likely outrun him.”
Although Republicans see Casey as a strong contender, the overall Senate map in 2024 strongly favors their party. Democrats are on the defense in 23 states, many on the battlefields and in full-blown MAGA country. Republicans are facing reelection in just 11 states, with the best opportunities for Democrats found in hostile territories like Florida and Texas. Republicans need only topple two Senate seats — or one if they win the White House — to regain control of the upper house.
But the GOP’s assessment of Casey underscores another dynamic in Senate racing that complicates the picture next year. Democrats have several battle-tested senators on their roster in 2024, like Sherrod Brown, Jon Tester and potentially Joe Manchin – who are widely seen as able opponents and outnumbered other candidates in their party.
During the 2018 Blue Wave, Casey led the state by 13 percentage points, two years after Hillary Clinton lost Pennsylvania to Trump. In 2012, Casey won by 9 percentage points, compared to then-President Barack Obama’s margin of victory of 5 points.
Republicans said one challenge they face is that Casey is so bland that no one hates him, a similar dilemma they faced in 2020 with Biden. Another is Casey’s constitutive services.
« His staffers representing him are very effective, » said Jackie Kulback, chairman of the Cambria County Republican Party. “They’re helping with constituent issues, things like that. This helps you win elections.”
Additionally, she said, « Honestly, I think there are a lot of people who still think about voting for his father. »
Casey’s view within the GOP underscores why Republicans in both Pennsylvania and Washington, DC aggressively courted McCormick and dissuaded Mastriano from jumping into the race. Public and private polls have shown Casey leading McCormick, but that the race would be tighter if McCormick were on the ticket.
After the Senate GOP electoral arm took a direct approach to the primary last year with disappointing results, this time the National Republican Senatorial Committee got involved in several states in hopes of nominating high-quality candidates. Republican officials believe McCormick, a combat veteran and former hedge fund CEO, could appeal to suburban voters and help fund what is expected to be a very expensive campaign against Casey.
« A tough GOP opponent who is well-funded could give him a race, » Novotney said.
Keith Rothfus, a former GOP congressman, is also eyeing the Senate contest. Sands, the former ambassador, recently declined to rule out a 2024 run.
Despite the less-than-optimistic attitude of many Republicans toward Casey, the Democrat is not without vulnerabilities. He’s moved to the left in recent years- a Philadelphia liberal columnist dubbed him « Woke Bob Casey » — which could give an opening for Republicans to challenge his moderate image. Biden’s approval ratings are dismal and could drop Casey and other Democrats on the ballot. Casey voted with Biden nearly 99% of the time, according to political data site FiveThirtyEight, a fact the GOP is eager to highlight. And Casey was lucky, running in good years for the Democrats.
In a statement Thursday following Mastriano’s announcement, McCormick signaled the lines of attack he would use on Casey if he ran.
« I am seriously considering running for United States Senate because Bob Casey has consistently made life worse for Pennsylvania families over the past 18 years and our state deserves better, » he said. « He is openly hostile to our state’s energy industry, he supports dangerous criminals walking our streets freely, and he is allowing borders to open, leading to a terrifying increase in fentanyl deaths in Pennsylvania. »
Casey’s campaign manager Tiernan Donohue countered: “Bob Casey is a Pennsylvania champion who has spent his life fighting against the ultra-wealthy and special interests who threaten the hard-working people of Pennsylvania — from countries like China that threaten our jobs, to the big insurance companies that are driving up our health care costs. Meanwhile, David McCormick is a Connecticut hedge fund executive who landed rich outsourcing jobs, laying off workers, and making his way to China.
Republicans also believe the recent headlines about Casey are another liability and have never been contested in television commercials before. Casey’s brother signed up to lobby last year ea New York Post March article found that Casey’s campaign paid his sister’s company for printing services. Casey’s office said his brother will not pressure him, in accordance with Senate ethics rules.
Some in the GOP even think Trump sharing a ticket with McCormick would be good for the two men. They predict a repeat of 2016, when Trump and then-Sen. Pat Toomey both won Pennsylvania, but with different routes: Toomey has fared better in suburban areas, while Trump has been stronger in rural parts of the state.
“To beat Bob Casey, you have to recreate the 2016 Toomey-Trump coalition,” said a GOP national strategist who declined to discuss the party’s strategy. « Turn it off in rural areas and keep Democrat numbers down in the suburbs. »
And, some Republicans have said, the benefits of Casey’s name may finally start to fade.
« I think what Bobby has always had going for him is his father’s legacy, » said Rep. Glenn « GT » Thompson (R-Pa.). “But I will say that I think most voters in Pennsylvania are at an age where they don’t remember Bob Sr.”
Ally Mutnick contributed to this article.