For the last three decades it seemed that there could not be an election in Pennsylvania without a Bob Casey on the ballot and 2006 will be no different as state Treasurer Bob Casey looks to unseat two-term incumbent Republican Sen. Rick Santorum.
From his father's repeated runs for governor in the 1970s and eventual election in 1986, to a bid for state treasurer by a local official named Robert Casey (who won his election due to confusion over which Bob Casey was running) to Bob Casey Jr.'s run for state auditor in 1996, governor in 2002 and state treasurer in 2004, Casey has been a name to be reckoned with in Keystone state politics.
As soon as Casey handily won his spot as the state treasurer in 2004, national Democratic figures began wooing him for a 2006 run against Santorum. Democrats in Washington thought his opposition to abortion and most gun control measures as well as his name would serve them well as they sought to regain control of the upper house.
By early 2005, Casey was polling ahead of other Democrats and even ahead of Santorum.
"Casey takes the independent vote, and that makes the difference," Quinnipiac University's Clay Richards told the Philadelphia Inquirer in February 2005. "This is early, and there are a lot of questions up in the air, but it's fascinating."
He made the call to run for the Senate job less than two months after he started the treasurer's job, a move that drew fire from political opponents.
He also drew fire from some within his own party due to his stances on abortion and gun control, but state party officials worked to downplay criticism.
"Bob Casey would be so different and better than Rick Santorum," T.J. Rooney, state Democratic chairman, told the Philadelphia Inquirer even before Casey announced his decision to run. "As much as I believe passionately in reproductive freedoms, I believe changing the culture of the Senate is just as important. This would be our opportunity to exact some change."
Since his decision to run, Casey has led the race against Santorum in public opinion polls, with surveys in mid-summer giving the 46 year old a solid 18-point lead.
Even on the campaign trail, he has focused on areas where Democrats usually feared to tread, stumping for votes in the conservative heartland of Lancaster County in July.
"I think it's very important for me to begin at least a dialogue with voters in parts of the state where I might not get their vote, Casey told the Associated Press. "I think it's a sign of respect for people. ... Even those who don't vote for you are entitled to the kind of respect you should show during a campaign."
Analysts also say that Casey could be helped by another name on the ballot, that of Gov. Ed Rendell. Rendell, the former Philadelphia mayor who defeated Casey in a battle for the Democratic nomination in 2002, could be critical for Casey to capture additional support in the vote-rich suburbs of Philadelphia.
Casey grew up in the northeastern part of the state in the rust belt city of Scranton, a fact that may help him there this fall. He also grew up in an intensely political and Catholic family. The son of Bob Casey, who would serve as the state's 41st governor from 1986 to 1995, Casey attended Holy Cross and earned a law degree from Catholic University.
His father, also a staunch opponent of abortion rights, caused major ripples in the party in the early 1990s, by refusing to endorse then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in his successful run for president in 1992. He also refused to back Sen. Harris Wofford in his 1994 run for re-election, a move that some said contributed to Wofford's defeat at the hands of U.S. Rep. Rick Santorum 49 percent to 47 percent.
After graduating from law school, Casey returned to Scranton and practiced law for five years until 1996 when he followed his father's footsteps into statewide politics, running for auditor general. Fueled by widespread support for his father, Casey cruised to election and then re-election in 2000.
Two years later, analysts said Casey overreached. In a move that threatened to split the party open, Casey took on Philadelphia Mayor Rendell for the gubernatorial nomination, saying Rendell was too liberal for the state. In the end, Rendell won the nomination by 12 points and Casey had to settle for a run for state treasurer two years later.
Now in the campaign for the U.S. Senate, Casey is stumping as much against President Bush as he is against Rick Santorum. He has also made Santorum's unapologetic connection to lobbyist a rallying point for his campaign, telling the Associated Press, "What they see with Senator Santorum time and again is a lot of ideology and special interests. ... That's why people are demanding change."
Although he has maintained a double-digit lead in most polls, both campaigns expect the race to tighten with Santorum anticipated to spend some $25 million, Casey's latest statewide run is anything but a sure thing.