Is Bob Casey vulnerable for reelection? Our newest Pennsylvania poll provides data you can use to argue it either way. On one hand he has weak approval numbers- only 39% of voters approve of the job he's doing to 35% who disapprove- you can certainly get defeated with those kinds of numbers. On the other hand he leads seven potential opponents for next year that we tested against him by anywhere from 12 to 23 points- you'll pretty much never get defeated with those kinds of numbers.
My sense is that Casey is not terribly vulnerable. Here's the thing about his low approval numbers- Democrats aren't in love with him. Just 55% approve of him and 22% disapprove. Generally you'll see a Senator closer to the 70% or 80% mark within his own party so his lack of approval from the party base is what's keeping Casey's approval number under 40%. But even though they don't necessarily like Casey, Democrats are still perfectly willing to vote for him- he gets 78-80% of the Democratic vote in head to head match ups against the seven Republicans we tested. And his 19% approval number with Republicans, although it may not sound like much, is actually a pretty decent amount of crossover support in this highly polarized political climate.
Casey and Florida's Bill Nelson may be the biggest teases for Republicans this cycle- when you look at the approval numbers it seems like they should be beatable but their topline approvals make them look a lot more vulnerable than they actually are. In each of their cases their disapproval number might be what's most instructive- only 35% of voters disapprove of Casey and only 34% of voters disapprove of Nelson- for an incumbent to be defeated you usually have to have ticked off more people than that.
The Republican who polls best against Casey is Rick Santorum, who trails 49-37. The Santorum/Casey match is probably the most instructive of the ones we tested. Those numbers show that Casey is at least a little bit weaker than he was in 2006, because he beat Santorum by 18 points that time. The political climate is a lot less friendly for Democrats now and Casey probably can't expect to win by that kind of grandiose margin again this time around. But they also show that Casey is a good 10 points stronger than Obama since this same poll found the President leading Santorum by only 2. It's an oversimplification but if Casey is roughly 10 points stronger than Obama Democrats would need to have an utter disaster in the state next year for Casey to lose.
None of the rest of the Republicans we tested has anything higher than 25% name recognition. Because of that lack of familiarity with their potential candidates all of these matches have a lot more undecided GOP voters than Democrats, which means if any of these folks actually became the Republican nominee the race would likely get tighter. Casey is up 16 on state senator Jake Corman at 51-35, 18 on Congressman Jim Gerlach at 50-32, 19 on Tea Party activist Laureen Cummings at 51-32, 20 on Congressman Charlie Dent at 51-31, 21 on state senate Kim Ward at 50-29, and 23 on announced candidate Marc Scaringi at 51-28.
Casey could be vulnerable. But he's nowhere near the top of the list for Democratic Senators the GOP could take out next year, and credible Republicans certainly don't seem to be lining up to run against him.
Full results here