The preponderance of conservative attention this year has quite understandably been focused on realizing the categorical imperative to defeat Barack Obama. But also important is the defeat of the president’s enablers in the United States Senate, that enough votes might be secured there to undo some of the damage they, together, have done. An opportunity to unseat one such enabler has emerged in an unlikely place — Pennsylvania — where first-term incumbent Bob Casey now finds himself in a fight he did not expect.
Pennsylvania has long been in danger of becoming a vestigial swing state, blushing red before settling in to a deep blue. But polls there are encouragingly tight, not just for Mitt Romney, who has closed to within five points in the Real Clear Politics averages, but for Casey’s Republican opponent, Tom Smith, who has erased double-digit deficits and now trails by as little as three points in some polls. Casey has allowed what many assumed would be a slam-dunk reelection to turn into a real contest, by underestimating both the resonance of Smith’s message and the poverty of his own record.
The case against Casey is simple: In his six years in the Senate since ousting Rick Santorum, he just hasn’t been very good — not on the issues that matter to conservatives, and not on the issues that matter to Pennsylvania. In a single term he has achieved the dubious milestone of sponsoring more than 300 bills, none of which has become law. Little wonder that Republican staffers have taken to calling him “Senator Zero.”
What Casey has done is become a reliable rubber stamp for the Obama-Reid agenda. Start with the Affordable Care Act. Casey has long claimed to be pro-life, and was elected in 2006 on that understanding. Yet he has also boasted that “no one in the Senate has worked harder” to pass Obamacare. He struck a concerned pose when the Obama administration used the object of his pride to force organizations, including Catholic ones, to cover abortion drugs. But beyond signing a feeble letter that is no doubt at this very moment reposing in a filing cabinet in Kathleen Sebelius’s office, Casey has not budged in his support for the president’s health-care plan.
Nor is this the only instance in which Casey’s conscience has proven conveniently plastic. Within months of coming to Washington, he voted for a Barbara Boxer amendment that provided funding to groups that provide abortion services abroad, overturning the long-standing Mexico City policy, which prevented such NGOs from receiving taxpayer dollars.
More recently, Senator Casey has turned his back on the Keystone State’s energy sector, which hovers precariously between resurgence and retreat.
In June, Casey voted against a bill to block a bundle of EPA rules known as Utility MACT, which stands for Maximum Achievable Control Technology, a fitting name for progressive job-killing regulations if ever there was one. Nationwide, MACT is expected to cost $9.2 billion, destroy 39,000 jobs, and result in 700,000 new hours of paperwork each year. In Pennsylvania, it has already caused five coal power plants to shutter, costing the Keystone State over 3,000 megawatts of electricity and hundreds of jobs while raising energy prices for Pennsylvanians. And its impact is only just starting to be felt; more than 20 other plants in the state could fall idle before all is said and done.
Just as damning is Casey’s dogged stewardship of the FRAC Act, which is threatening to gut natural-gas production in western Pennsylvania over flimsy environmental concerns about horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The process is behind a virtual rebirth of the long-depressed Rust Belt, and is transforming western Pennsylvania into an epicenter of low-cost energy production, creating jobs not just in the gas industry, but also by facilitating a number of industrial processes that depend on natural gas, from aluminum to glass production. Casey’s bill would turn over regulation of drilling in the region’s Marcellus shale formation to the federal government at the worst possible time, endangering as many as 240,000 jobs and sending a message to his state’s own regulators that they aren’t up to the task of balancing environmental concerns against economic exigencies.
Tom Smith is in a good position to communicate just how devastating Casey’s energy agenda is. A self-made man who put off college to run the family farm when his father took ill, Smith later became a coal miner and eventually started a successful coal interest of his own. Like many in the Rust Belt, Smith was a lifelong Democrat who realized that the party had drifted away from him and found like-minded people in the nascent tea parties. His averred positions and demeanor mark him as a straightforward conservative with a mildly populist bent, with the right instincts on reining in spending and simplifying the tax code, and his campaign has been competent and cost-effectively run. He has demonstrated the ability as well to appeal to independents and Reagan Democrats (a term Smith frequently uses), and deserves to make Pat Toomey the senior senator from Pennsylvania.
The data and dynamics of the race make it a foregone conclusion that Casey and Obama will pay dearly for their war on carbon in western Pennsylvania, and Romney looks poised to win there by wider margins than did McCain. With a strong final week, and a bit of luck in the Philadelphia suburbs, Tom Smith could ride that wave to an upset victory over Senator Casey on November 6. And that would be good news, for Pennsylvania and for America.