With Election Day less than a week away, a pair of Democratic incumbents appear to be favored in their statewide races.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who labels himself a “pro-life” Democrat, has a comfortable advantage over Republican U.S. Rep Lou Barletta in polls. Barletta has served in Congress since 2011, representing Pennsylvania’s old 11th District.
Barletta’s national profile has grown in recent years, as he has publicly attached himself to President Donald Trump. He was part of the president’s transition team, and voiced support for Trump’s executive order from January 2017 that prohibited entry to the United States for citizens of seven majority Muslim countries.
Trump stumped for Barletta during a Make America Great Again Rally in Wilkes-Barre in August. “We need Republicans. We need Lou Barletta,” Trump told the packed crowd at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza.
The president’s support hasn’t translated to gains for Barletta in the polls, however. A Politico/Morning Consult poll from early October showed Casey receiving 47 percent support to Barletta’s 32 percent. And fivethirtyeight.com gives Casey a 97.9 percent chance of winning the race.
If victorious, Casey would assume his third term in the Senate. The son of a former Pennsylvania governor, Casey began his political career in 1997 as state auditor general. He dethroned former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum in 2005, earning the largest margin of victory (17.4 percent) of any challenger to an incumbent senator since 1980.
He has shifted more to the left in recent years, without shedding some of his roots. Long an opponent of abortion, Casey did hold a press conference at a Planned Parenthood location in Upper Darby in March 2017 and spoke of the importance of women’s reproductive rights. Casey voted “yes,” however, on a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy on Jan. 29. The bill did not get out of the Senate.
“I will work with [Trump] where I can and hold him accountable where I must. President Trump promised to be a champion for working people and middle class families, yet instead of putting forth plans to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, he’s pushed obscene tax cuts for millionaires,” Casey told BillyPenn.com in a statement. “If President Trump gets serious and fights for the middle class then I’ll join him, but if he continues to pursue policies that adversely impact Pennsylvania families then I will fight him like hell.”
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has engaged in similar rhetoric since Trump’s election. The businessman-turned politician has held his post since 2015, and recent polls indicate he is likely to fend off Republican challenger Scott Wagner, who represented District 28 in the Pennsylvania Senate from 2014 to 2018.
The Politico/Morning Consult poll from October showed Wolf with 48 percent to Wagner’s 36 percent.
Wolf, who ran uncontested in the Democratic primary, has pointed to his accomplishments in office during his campaign. He has presented himself as a fierce supporter of women’s reproductive rights, a point he hammered home after Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Some Democrats worry that the now-conservative leaning court will seek to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“If Roe v. Wade reverts to the states, I’ll be the last line of defense,” Wolf told the York Daily Record. “I’ll continue to stand up for women’s rights.”
Wagner, who is pro-life, has drawn comparisons to Trump in both substance in style, and the president endorsed the Republican at the August rally in Wilkes-Barre.
“I am incredibly grateful and honored to receive President Trump’s support,” Wagner said in a statement. “Thanks to the president’s tax cuts and strong economic leadership, Americans are seeing more money in their paychecks and increased opportunities across the nation. Sadly, Tom Wolf’s failed liberal policies are preventing Pennsylvania from experiencing the full effect of President Trump’s success.”
The race took a turn Oct. 12. In a video posted to Facebook, Wagner urged Wolfe to “put a catcher’s mask on your face.
“Because I’m going to stomp all over your face with golf spikes. Because I’m going to win this for the state of Pennsylvania, and we’re throwing you out office!”
The video has since been removed. PJC
Joshua Needelman writes for the Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.