Bob Casey defends Joe Biden’s debate showing, says voters know what’s at stake

SCRANTON — Hours after President Joe Biden’s destitute debate performance, Pennsylvania Democrats rushed to defend him.

Gov. Josh Shapiro gave television interviews. Sen. John Fetterman posted on social media about his own experience with the failed debate and tried to quell Democratic panic.

But Senator Bob Casey, arguably Biden’s closest ally in the state who now faces the toughest re-election fight of his career, has remained mute, a fact that has been exploited by his Republican rival Dave McCormick.

On Monday, during a campaign visit to a Scranton brewery, Casey reluctantly answered questions about the president’s record and said he thought Biden should remain the candidate.

“I think people know what’s at stake in this race. That’s true on a national level,” Casey said. “That’s true in my race… he had a bad night, there’s no doubt about it, but I think people are going to be focused on this election.”

Asked about internal party discussions about whether to urge Biden to reject the nomination, Casey told reporters at the event, “I’m not aware of those conversations happening,” while remaining brief about Biden and openly relieved when asked about his race.

After Biden’s lackluster debate performance, vulnerable Democratic candidates are wondering how to win the election without aligning themselves too closely with an unpopular president whose policies they largely support.

But Casey is unlike other incumbents in key battleground states because he and the president have been friends and allies for decades, further complicating the dynamics of their 2024 campaigns, which share some staff.

“This race has been portrayed as democracy on the line, so I think friendships, loyalty and long-term relationships come second to defending democracy,” said Philadelphia political consultant Mustafa Rashed. “Senator Casey has his own race to win, and politics is a calculated business.”

Both of Scranton’s sons, Biden and Casey, grew up on the same street in the same Green Ridge neighborhood, and their families share friends. When Casey’s mother, Ellen, died last year, Biden had a private gathering to say goodbye. In his State of the Union address in February, Biden’s most-watched speech until last week’s debate, the president called out only one senator by name, and it was “Bobby Casey.”

McCormick, a former hedge fund executive, tried to capitalize on Biden’s destitute debate performance, as did other GOP candidates. He has digital advertising featuring clips of Casey defending Biden’s fitness to hold office and accusing Casey of lying in defense of the president. McCormick also suggested that Biden’s cabinet should consider removing him from office using the 25th Amendment.

Asked Monday whether he still believes Biden has the ability to run a tough campaign and serve another four years, Casey said “yes and yes.” Pressed to elaborate, he said: “I’ve been around this for a while, and I know his work.”

What the polls say

Casey has trailed Biden in most polls, but his race remains tight. If Biden’s support in Pennsylvania falls, that means Casey will have to convince more ticket splitters to support him.

AND Emerson College June Survey found Casey up 6 points over McCormick, outside the poll’s margin of error. Casey led Biden in that poll by 2 points.

Still, McCormick’s team sees room to redefine Casey and says some of the split support is delicate, given that about a quarter of Pennsylvania’s likely voters said in a recent study that they don’t know enough to form an opinion about Casey, the longest-serving Democratic senator in state history and the son of a former Pennsylvania governor.

“I really don’t know much about Bob Casey, but I haven’t heard anything bad about him,” said Charles Kestener, a 41-year-old registered independent from Allentown who participated in the Inquirer/New York Times/Siena College poll in May and plans to vote for Casey but not Biden.

Waiting for something

The extent of the damage to downvotes from Biden’s bad debate performance will remain unclear at least until the next round of primary polls come in. After the Democrats’ complete panic on Friday, Biden’s forceful performance in Raleigh seemed to quell some concerns.

Still, many Democrats fear that if Biden remains the nominee and turnout is low, it could hurt the chances of remaining Democrats in states where the vote is closely split.

On Monday at Voodoo Brewing in Scranton, Casey, who is usually mild-mannered, was uncharacteristically animated as he described his campaign fight. The ad wars began in earnest over the past few months when the Senate Leadership Fund committed $24 million to support elect McCormick, in addition to spending from a billionaire-backed super PAC. Casey slammed the super PAC, then spoke about the three debates he and McCormick had agreed to before the Nov. 5 election.

“They’re still attacking me…those billionaires. I’ll beat them. I’ll beat them all,” Casey said, his voice rising to a scream.

“It’s going to be a tough, tough debate, and at the end of it, I’m going to win this race… and the president is going to win his race.”

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