Casey praises Obama as a force for tolerance


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DENVER -- A generation after his father was barred from the podium of the Democratic National Convention, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. invoked his name as he depicted Sen. Barack Obama as a force for tolerance on an issue that continues to divide Democrats.

"I'm honored to stand before you as Gov. Bob Casey's son," the senator said as he took the stage of the Pepsi Center. Later, he urged the delegates to rally to the candidate he had endorsed before the Pennsylvania primary, calling him, "a leader who, as Lincoln said, appeals to 'the better angels of our nature.' "

"Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion," said the lawmaker, who is an abortion foe. "But the fact that I'm speaking here tonight is a testament to Barack's ability to show respect for the views of people who disagree with him."

Yesterday was women's day at the convention, with speeches from a line of female senators providing a prelude to the highly anticipated appearance of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In a more modest way, it was Pennsylvania day, as Mr. Casey and Gov. Ed Rendell, who took opposite sides in the state's presidential primary, each spoke in favor of the Obama candidacy.

Inside and outside the hall, they offered contrasting portrayals of the bonds Mr. Obama had managed to form with voters.

Mr. Casey described the bus trip he and Mr. Obama shared through the state after his unexpected endorsement of his Senate colleague, saying, "Everywhere Barack went, people who may have been asking who this guy was ended up seeing what I saw. ... Everywhere we went the people of Pennsylvania gave him the highest praise they give anyone: He's one of us too."

Perhaps not enough came to that view, however, as Mr. Obama lost the state by nearly 10 percentage points after a rough campaign stretch in which he was dogged by publicity over the incendiary comments of his former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and was quoted musing over the "bitter" attitudes of some religious believers and gun owners. Mr. Rendell may have had that aspect of the candidate's persona in mind when he told the Washington Post, "He is a little like Adlai Stevenson.

"You ask him a question, and he gives you a six-minute answer. And the six-minute answer is smart as all get out. It's intellectual. It's well-framed. It takes care of all the contingencies. But it's a lousy sound bite," Mr. Rendell said.

"With people who have a lot of gifts, it's hard for people to identify with them. Barack Obama is handsome. He's incredibly bright. He's incredibly well-spoken, and he's incredibly successful -- not exactly the easiest guy in the world to identify with."

Mr. Rendell was more on-message at the Pepsi Center microphone as he extolled Mr. Obama as a champion of energy independence and argued that his opponent would repeat what he characterized as the disappointments of the Bush administration.

Later, Mr. Casey drew the crowd into his speech as he predicted an end to Republican rule in Washington.

"They ran up the debt, gave huge subsidies to big oil companies, and now they're asking for four more years. How about four more months?" he demanded to loud cheers.

The previous day, sitting in a Starbucks nearby, Mr. Casey reflected on his father's less welcome reception and the changes in the party on the issue on which the late governor had so strenuously opposed former President Bill Clinton. The senator acknowledged that the precise details of why the elder Casey was barred from that New York City podium in 1992 are still in some dispute. In his memoirs, the late governor said it was a deliberate insult motivated by his opposition to abortion rights.

Other reports have attributed it to his failure to endorse the Clinton-Gore ticket prior to the convention.

"It's interesting, even in the last six months, I've heard facts that I didn't know before. ... I think it was, apart from what happened to him and the insult, a missed opportunity to listen to a guy who really understood how people struggle."

Mr. Casey lauded his party's move toward a big tent approach on the issue but noted that the shift should not be exaggerated.

"I think the party has changed in the sense that, one of the first things John Kerry said after the '04 race was we've got to reach out more to pro-life Democrats. Hillary Clinton said that a lot and talked about that when she was campaigning."

When asked about the relative lack of intra-party unrest over the fact that Mr. Obama was reported to have at least considered several anti-abortion Democrats as running mates, however, Mr. Casey said, "Let's be candid. I don't think we're at the point where our party could nominate someone who is pro-life ... maybe even at the vice presidential level."


Post-Gazette politics editor James O'Toole can be reached at jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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