PITTSBURGH -- Senator Bob Casey, a champion of the working-class Catholic voters at the core of Hillary Clinton's Pennsylvania coalition, bypassed Clinton to endorse Barack Obama today, the latest swipe between two warring dynasties whose battles have defined the Democratic party's search for a modern identity.
"This is about all of us, of all ages, across this state and across America," Casey said at a rally at an auditorium here, where he attributed his endorsement to the enthusiasm Obama's candidacy has generated among Casey's four daughters.
Casey's endorsement not only assuaged his children but avenged slights against his father -- a popular two-term governor Pennsylvania -- at the hands of Bill Clinton, with whom he feuded throughout the 1990s as the two emerged as figureheads for competing wings of a party in transition.
The father, also Bob Casey, a pro-life Catholic elected in 1986, rallied the blue-collar white ethnic voters -- socially conservative, New Deal economic liberals -- who became known as "Casey Democrats" to back him when he pursued both new limits on abortion and expanded state health-insurance plans for children.
"It's going to be a little ironic that the people who are going to save Hillary in Pennsylvania are going to be the Casey Democrats and not Bill Clintonís traditional Democratic base in the large cities and rim counties," said Joe Vignola, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 1988.
In 1992, as Clinton was coasting to the party's nomination, Casey encouraged his party to dump the Arkansas governor and use the convention to pick a new nominee, citing "the character issue" around Clinton and his "tiny, fly speck of support." Casey, who had enacted a tough state-level anti-abortion laws then under review by the U.S. Supreme Court, suggested that Clinton could have trouble winning the presidency due to his pro-choice views.
When Pennsylvania held its primary days later, Clinton lost only two counties in the state: Casey's home of Lackawanna and neighboring Luzerne, both carried by former California governor Jerry Brown, who barely campaigned in the state.
Their fight continued through the party's nominating convention that year, when Clinton kept Casey from addressing the party about abortion and banished the governor's contingent to the rafters of Madison Square Garden.
After leaving office in 1995, Casey set out immediately to run in the following year's Democratic primaries as a challenger to Clinton, who Casey wrote in his memoir had failed to "identify with the basic values and economic interests of ordinary Americans." Casey launched an exploratory committee for a campaign designed largely to legitimize a pro-life agenda within the party, but abandoned the challenge after being rediagnosed with a genetic condition that had forced him to earlier undergo a heart-liver transplant.
Yet in his memoir, "Fighting for Life," Casey took credit for pushing Clinton towards a social conservatism that allowed him to win over working-class whites key to his 1996 reelection -- and have become an essential constituency in his wifeís campaign to derail Obama. Hillary Clinton has tried to use her familyís ties to Scranton, the northeastern Pennsylvania coal town home to the Casey political base, to emphasize a personal connection with the state's blue-collar voters.
"The Casey family is very influential in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre," said Mary Isenhour, Clintonís state director, naming a few weeks ago when Casey was still neutral. "People up there love Bobby Casey, they loved his father."