A tale of two spotlights

 
Obama Penn supporter put in better light …
 

PENNSYLVANIA SEN BOB CASEY. From relative obscurity to national
limelight – for backing Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential bid.
 
 

… but Clinton Philly backer placed in worse
 

PHILADELPHIA Mayor Michael Nutter, shown here in this November 2007 file photo, has backed New York Senator Hillary Clinton despite calls for him to support his fellow African-American visionary, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, in the Democratic presidential nomination.
Jessica Kourkounis/NEW YORK TIMES
 
 
By THOMAS FITZGERALD
and MARCIA GELBART
Staff Writers
Philadelphia Inquirer
 
 
IN HIS COURTSHIP of Pennsylvania voters during his bus tour, Democratic presidential candidate Illinois Sen. Barack Obama hung out with Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey Jr. in a bowling alley and a sports bar. They spent hours on Obama’s campaign bus, slammed into each other on the basketball court, and teased each other like brothers. They demonstrated such an affection that some members of the traveling party labeled them BFF, the text-message abbreviation for “best friends forever.”
 
“I just love the guy,” Obama remarked in an interview. It was a noisy debut on the national political stage for Casey, who spent his first year in the U.S. Senate in relative obscurity. But he stunned many in the state March 28, when he endorsed Obama after repeatedly vowing to remain neutral in the battle between the Illinois senator and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who has the support of most the state’s Democratic leaders.
 
And it could not have come at a better moment for Obama, who has been trailing Clinton by double-digit margins in most state polls. Casey, scion of a Scranton political dynasty, is influential with white working-class voters. Those voters, it happens, have been the most resistant to Obama’s candidacy in other states, and strategists sizing up Pennsylvania’s April 22 primary say the working class holds the key here. Obama aides were hopeful that Casey could help them peel away some Clinton support among the group.
 
“Casey polls off the charts in Northeast Pennsylvania,” said Mike Washo, a Lackawanna County commissioner. “His support gives credibility, an impetus for some people to consider supporting Obama.”
 
For Casey, endorsing Obama is a no-lose proposition, analysts say: If Obama gets crushed, that won’t be seen as Casey’s fault. If Obama does better than expected, he is bound to get some credit. The alliance also could help Casey with African Americans, upper-income voters, and college students, broadening his base for reelection or another try for governor some day.
 
“It helps Bobby because he’s only ever going to be vulnerable in a primary election,” said Larry Ceisler, a Philadelphia public-affairs consultant and adviser to Democrats. “Going with Obama and developing that relationship helps insulate him from a challenge from the left.” For example, when he defeated Republican Sen. Rick Santorum in 2006, Casey had to overcome mistrust among liberals, particularly those put off by his staunch antiabortion stance.
 
If Obama were to win the White House, Casey would become the most prominent of the new president’s “go-to” political people for Pennsylvania, others said. “The White House doors will be open and Casey’s phone calls will be answered,” said Jack Hanna, an Obama supporter from an Indiana, Pa., who heads the Southwest Caucus of the Democratic State Committee.
 
On the other hand, if Clinton wins the presidency, Gov. Ed Rendell would be first in line. A crowded lineup backs Clinton, including Mayor Mike Nutter, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, and Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham.
 
As the highest-ranking Obama supporter in the state, Casey stands out. In 1992, Casey’s father refused to endorse Bill Clinton for president because of the abortion issue, and was denied a speaking slot at the Democratic convention as a result. Some speculated that endorsing Obama was a form of payback. “I was expecting some people would say that, but it’s about the future, not the past,” Casey said.
 
Casey and Obama share a love of pickup basketball. They played five games last weekend, with teams drawn from Secret Service agents and campaign aides. “Bob was Mr. Fundamentals,” Obama recalled. “He boxed out; he was terrific on the boards. He played good defense, and he can hit an open shot.” Speed? “He’s like me, you know, getting on in years,” Obama said.
 
Casey said Obama had good moves. “I jog enough to have some wind, but there’s wind of a different kind,” he said. “I survived two days without getting hurt.”
 

SENATOR BOB CASEY. In a Barack Obama presidency, this Pennsylvanian
legislator will be the White House’s key and ‘go-to’ man in the Keystone State.
 
 
PHILADELPHIA Mayor Michael Nutter has a message for anyone still dogging him about why he endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton over Barack Obama.
 
“There are no automatics in life that all black people are going to support a single black candidate in a race,” Nutter said. “All black folks don’t eat fried chicken or eat watermelon. When do we make some progress here?”
 
Nutter endorsed Clinton four months ago, citing her understanding of the tough issues facing America’s cities. He has since discovered that almost nothing he has done as the new mayor has gotten as much national attention.
 
As Pennsylvania’s April 22 primary nears, most everyone wants to know why a well-educated African American mayor with a reformist message and a “post-racial” vision would not endorse a well-educated African American presidential candidate with a reformist message and “post-racial” vision.
 
As ABC News, CBS’s Face the Nation, and others have come calling – next Monday it will be The Colbert Report – the experience has left Nutter bristling a bit over what he sees as hypocrisy.
 
“I didn’t see people running up to Ted Kennedy, saying, ‘Are you getting any pressure from supporting Sen. Obama, any backlash?’ No one is asking the white elected officials if they are getting pressure for supporting the black guy,” he said in an interview last week.
 
He even had some pointed words for Obama, who recently suggested Nutter might have some “bruised feelings” given the Illinois senator’s endorsement of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah in last year’s Democratic mayoral primary.
 
“I laughed,” Nutter said, when he heard that explanation. “It’s kind of silly to think I would make such an important decision and allow last year’s primary election to come into it. … I think, respectfully, Sen. Obama and others should not speculate about it.”
 
For the moment, his endorsement of Clinton leaves Nutter with few peers. “In terms of young black elected officials and young African Americans in general, he is an exception,” said David Bositis, who researches black voting patterns at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington.
 
Kevin Marr, a 31-year-old white resident of Northeast Philadelphia, said, “It’s refreshing that he’s not just siding with an African American candidate because they are African American.”
 
Almetta McClinton, 82, saw Nutter’s decision as a political one in that he wanted to align himself with Gov. Rendell, a Clinton backer. Walking with her daughter through the City Hall courtyard last week, she said it was a no-brainer. “He was going to go with Rendell – you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.”
 
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