With Midterms Looming, Casey Joins Local Democrats for Rally at Penn State
Six days out from the general election, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey made a campaign stop on Wednesday at Penn State's HUB-Robeson Center alongside Centre County Democratic candidates as they look to energize voter turnout on Nov. 6.
"I am certain of this. In my lifetime, there has never been a midterm election of greater consequence than this election, because of all that’s at stake for our commonwealth and our country," Casey said.
Pennsylvania's senior senator is criss-crossing the state as he seeks his third term in office, running against Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta of Hazleton. Casey has comfortable double-digit leads in most recent polls, but three of the four local Democrats who joined him on Wednesday face steeper climbs.
Candidates Marc Friedenberg (12th Congressional District), Ezra Nanes (34th State Senate District) and Erin McCracken (171st State House District) are each challenging multi-term incumbents. State Rep. Scott Conklin, who also was on hand, is running unopposed for re-election in the 77th District.
"In every instance I would say keep doing what you have been doing," Casey said after the event. "They’re strong candidates. They’re making clear the distinctions between themselves and their opponents. So many of those distinctions are what I’ve experienced in this campaign."
Before delving into campaign issues, though, Casey discussed the mass shooting on Saturday at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 people dead and six injured. The senator was traveling with Gov. Tom Wolf at the time and arrived on the scene Saturday afternoon.
Casey said he was struck by how the people of the synagogue and Squirrel Hill communities and well beyond came together in the aftermath, the heroism of law enforcement and first responders and the gratitude expressed by the neighborhood and synagogue communities for the support they received.
"We live in a big, complicated, difficult world and this is one of those moments when we can come together through the horror of that tragedy as one people … as one nation come together in unity to provide comfort," he said. "The next steps down the road are how do we deal with this issue going forward over the next couple of months and years – the issue of hate and the issue of gun violence. Lots to talk about there and lots to work on."
After the event, Casey said it's important to tone down rhetoric while still continuing to debate significant differences on issues.
"I think it’s a responsibility for Democrats and Republicans to lower the temperature and keep the vitriol out," he said. "What we should continue to do, however, is debate important issues... We can still have vigorous debate back and forth but do it in a manner that doesn’t always divide people."
On campaign issues, Casey and the down-ballot candidates hit on similar themes.
The senator said that corporate special interests have "total control of the three branches of government" and influence policy and decisions on issues such as health care and workers' rights to organize.
Affordable health care and protections for pre-existing conditions were the major focus for Casey, who was critical of Republicans he said have claimed they support protections for pre-existing conditions but have voted otherwise.
"I have a message for those Republicans: If we do nothing else for the next couple of years we are not going back to those days when an insurance company can deny you treatment or coverage or charge you a higher amount because you have a pre-existing condition," Casey said.
Friedenberg, who has made health care a core issue in his campaign against four-term incumbent Rep. Tom Marino, mostly directed his remarks to student voters, saying they will be "the difference between winning and losing," and encouraging them to run for office themselves.
"This is something you can do," said Friedenberg, who added that he would be an advocate for students and Penn State in Washington. "No one asked me to run. I decided to do it because I was really unhappy with the way our country is moving and here we are today. Your voice matters just as much as everybody else’s."
Friedenberg also said he and students understand the threat of climate change and following the facts and empirical data presented in scientific studies.
"We have to tackle climate change," he said. "We have the ability to do so with renewable energy creating the next generation of jobs here in Pennsylvania."
Renewable energy and green jobs were among the issues raised by Nanes, who is challenging incumbent state Sen. Jake Corman of Benner Township. Nanes also espoused support for strengthening public education, addressing student debt, lowering health care costs and protecting those with pre-existing conditions, increasing the minimum wage, and better supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners.
"People are struggling because their government has walked away from them, and we need to change that," Nanes said. "The first step to that is ending corporate control of politicians in Harrisburg."
McCracken, who is challenging incumbent Rep. Kerry Benninghoff of Bellefonte, said that win or lose on Tuesday, each of the local candidates had a significant accomplishment during the campaign.
"We don’t know if we’re all going to win. I hope that we do. But what we have done is gotten our message out. We have not allowed Republicans to control the conversation in this area," she said.
After the event, Casey was asked his thoughts on President Donald Trump's plans to sign an executive order in an attempt to end birthright citizenship in the United States.
"First of all I think it’s a bad idea. Secondly, I don’t think anyone believes it’s constitutional," Casey said. "I think most constitutional experts would say he’s not able to do it. But even if he were in a scenario where he had the power to do it, I think it’s the wrong thing to do. It would be a giant step backwards."