Like everyone else, Sen. Bob Casey knew his state would be pivotal in the 2020 presidential election. But there was also plenty about the race that surprised him. In the days before Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, Casey reflected on Trump’s hold on the state’s red counties, Biden’s victory and the productive working relationship he shares with his longtime colleague.
MLT: You endorsed Biden’s presidential run, but you also know many of the other candidates who ran in the primaries.
BC: One of the considerations you weigh when there are multiple candidates running against an incumbent president is: Can the person win? If you don’t win Pennsylvania, it’s lights out. President Trump had a pathway to win without Pennsylvania. George Bush did it twice in 2000 and 2004, and George H.W. Bush did it in 1988. In 2020, Republicans had a pathway to win without Pennsylvania; the Democrats did not.
MLT: What convinced you that Biden could win Pennsylvania?
BC: I knew he had a strong base [here]. I also know that when people make a decision about who they’re going to support for president, it’s not just about going down a list of issues. It’s also a gut decision. I thought people would be more disposed to support him than not. They know who Joe Biden is, what he stands for and the kind of president he’d be. I was proven right on that, but I didn’t know it would be so close. It’s frightening to think what would’ve happened if Joe Biden wasn’t the nominee. Could the Democrats have won the election?
MLT: Why do you think the election was so close?
BC: That’s not unusual in presidential races. Look at Gore, Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Obama’s second race. The Democrats won three out of four, but barely. When you average those four races, Pennsylvania is a three-point state. What surprised a lot of people—including me—is that Donald Trump didn’t lose as much support in red counties as they thought he would. I thought his numbers would be less robust because of his handling of the pandemic because he didn’t deliver on a lot of his promises about jobs, and everything else. But he had a high voter turnout and did as well—or beat—a lot of the percentages he had in the race against Hillary. In a lot of counties, he did a little better; and in a lot of counties, he did much better. That’s why those four counties in the Philadelphia suburbs—Chester, Delaware and Montgomery— plus Alleghany—made all the difference.
MLT: In national races, Philadelphia’s suburbs have been swing counties for decades. Why do you think that is?
BC: People vote differently in a presidential race than in other races. A lot of suburban Philadelphia voters can be more conservative on some issues—particularly on something like a tax bill. So many of those voters were waiting for Donald Trump to give them a sense that he’d grow into the job, or not be as extreme as he turned out to be. It seemed like he ran as a populist but governed from the right. Then there were a lot of disappointments in how he handled issues. There were a lot of reasons why those voters had less confidence in him.
What surprised a lot of people—including me—is that Donald Trump didn’t lose as much support in red counties as they thought he would. I thought his numbers would be less robust because of his handling of the pandemic because he didn’t deliver on a lot of his promises about jobs, and everything else. But he had a high voter turnout and did as well—or beat—a lot of the percentages he had in the race against Hillary.
MLT: The pandemic transformed voting in Pennsylvania. Are there any 2020 practices that you believe should be permanent?
BC: I’d like to see a continuation of the mail-in voting effort. That requires more time, attention and legislative change on the state level. As of now, the numbers show that 38 percent of [Pennsylvania] votes were mail-in. I think that will grow. We have to make sure we have infrastructure and funding to support that at the county level. The idea that you have only one day to vote from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. while juggling jobs and kids? We don’t want to go back to that.
MLT: What would you like to see in the first 30 days of Biden’s term?
BC: We’ll still be dealing with two big issues. One is the pandemic—it won’t be gone in February or March. I hope we’ll be racking up big numbers of people who’ve been given the vaccine, but I don’t know that yet. The second is the economic jobs crisis. I also hope Joe Biden will introduce and be working on climate change, and that he’ll push the Senate to work on the Justice in Policing Act. Also, I have an ambitious proposal called the Five Freedoms for America’s Children: freedom to be healthy, freedom to be economically secure, freedom to learn, freedom from hunger and freedom to be safe from harm. I borrowed and gave recognition to President Roosevelt’s four freedoms and added one.
MLT: You’ve known Biden for decades. Will you share a few stories that speak to his character?
BC: I have a recollection of him calling me the day after I lost the race for governor. I had two calls that day—a reporter and Joe Biden. When you lose, your phone lines don’t get flooded with calls. But he called and made all kinds of predictions about how I’d have a chance to come back and be successful in politics. I wasn’t sure if he had a real prediction or was just being nice.
In 2004, Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer asked me to run for the Senate. I said I had to think about it. I never met them; we just spoke over the phone. I went to Washington, D.C., and talked to Joe Biden about it. He knew I was being recruited to run, but he was also giving guidance because he knew me. He also knew the state of Pennsylvania and how to put together a campaign. He gave me good advice. He helped me when I was running. He made appearances for me.
A lot of people don’t realize that Joe Biden’s connection to Scranton didn’t end when he left there. As a child, he came back to Pennsylvania in the summers to see his relatives. As a public official, he came back a lot. For many years, we didn’t have a Democratic senator, so Democratic groups all over the state would invite him to speak. He was a smart politician who knew he had to raise money. Delaware is a small state—sometimes he had to leave to raise money.
MLT: You’re calling him Joe Biden.
BC: Yes, you’re right. It should be President-elect Biden. Then President Biden. I’ll have to get used to that. I can do that.
Editorial note: Sen. Pat Toomey’s office did not respond to requests for an interview.