Sen. Casey: Obama Can Achieve 'Common Ground'

Sen. Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania will speak Tuesday at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, where his dad was denied a speaking role at Bill Clinton's 1992 convention for opposing abortion rights. The senator says he won't talk about abortion, which he opposes, but rather about why he thinks Barack Obama is better suited to fix the broken economy than John McCain.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Another Pennsylvania Democrat will be speaking at the convention tonight: Senator Robert Casey, Jr. His turn at the podium is notable because in 1992 his father, then the popular governor of Pennsylvania, was not allowed to speak because of his opposition to abortion rights. The Democratic Party has embraced the son, despite his opposition to abortion, because the son helped his party capture the Senate. We caught up with Senator Casey in the Convention Hall.

What does it mean, Senator, that you're speaking at the convention this week and your father did not speak back in 1992?

Senator ROBERT CASEY JR. (Democrat, Pennsylvania): Well, I think the fact that I'm speaking is really in many ways consistent with the kind of approach that Barack Obama has brought to his campaign. He's been a candidate who has always been willing to try to reach common ground, to listen to people that he might disagree with.

INSKEEP: Does that mean, Senator, that you will not be talking about abortion and your opposition to it?

Senator CASEY: No. It'll be a speech about the theme of the night, which is the economy and focusing on people in Pennsylvania and also Barack's candidacy. There are a lot of people who talk about Senator Obama's candidacy in the sense of how it relates to a particular issue or what it means to the country. And I think he's got leadership skills that are rare and leadership skills that we're going to need in the next president.

INSKEEP: Let me ask, Senator, there may be an occasion later in the fall when you're in a small room full of people, and let's say it's a room full of people that you know are strongly opposed to abortion, as you are.

Senator CASEY: Right.

INSKEEP: And they ask you what reason could you possibly give me to vote for this man even though we disagree on something that these voters feel is a very strong and important subject.

Senator CASEY: It is. It's an important issue for people on both sides. I think what I would say to them is that Barack Obama is not only the kind of person and the kind of candidate who's reached out to people, but he also - he has worked actively to achieve common ground.

INSKEEP: What's the...

Senator CASEY: And one thing...

INSKEEP: ...common ground on abortion?

Senator CASEY: Well, I think there are several areas of common ground. One of them without a doubt - and none of us talk about this enough - but that is what are we going to do to help pregnant women. And I think that's something we can work together on.

INSKEEP: Are you going to argue to devout Catholics or others in your state that the situation with abortion from their point of view would actually get better under Senator Obama than Senator McCain?

Senator CASEY: Sure, because I think that part of that common ground is saying that we can reduce the number. People on both sides want that number to come down. And I think it's also important to talk about it in terms of public policy. And I think there's a world of difference between what President Obama could do. His record and his proposals are markedly different on that than Senator McCain's are.

INSKEEP: We're talking with Senator Robert Casey. He is speaking tonight at the Democratic National Convention. And Senator, in the last few days we were in Pennsylvania - in Chester County, Pennsylvania talking to quite a number of voters about the election. And I'd like to play you some tape from one voter, Bill Albrecht of Exton, Pennsylvania. He's a consultant for pharmaceutical firms. And he said this.

Mr. BILL ALBRECHT: My view is, whoever is the Democrat that would end up in the White House - obviously, Obama is - but it doesn't matter who the Democrat is in the White House. If there's a Democrat in the White House, then really what we're getting is Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

INSKEEP: When I was speaking with these voters in Pennsylvania, I did get a sense that conservative attacks on Obama were getting through to ordinary voters, claims that he will be too close to the Democratic Congress, that he's out of touch with ordinary people, that he's not experienced enough. What danger is there that your candidate, in the minds of some voters, will essentially be disqualified by those kinds of attacks?

Senator CASEY: Steve, there's certainly a danger of that. Because if the Republicans are good at anything - the leaders of the Republican Party in the United States of America today - they are experts at fear and smear, divide and conquer. They've won with it.

What we have to do, though, I think, is rebut those charges, but also to point out the real McCain record. Not enough people yet know that John McCain wants to privatize Social Security. And I think when people begin to focus more on the difference between the candidates on the issues, as well as, I think, the character and the decency and the integrity of Senator Obama, he understands a lot more about how people have to struggle economically than John McCain will ever in his whole lifetime. He doesn't have nine, ten or eleven houses. And if he did, I think he'd remember how many he had.

But I do think that this campaign on the other side has been a typical Karl Rove Republican campaign. I think John McCain should try to rise above it, don't continue the fear and smear politics. I'm not convinced that it has worked. I'm not convinced it will work.

INSKEEP: Senator Robert Casey of Pennsylvania speaks at the Democratic Convention tonight.

Senator, thanks very much.

Senator CASEY: Thanks so much for this opportunity.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: And you can hear NPR's live coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Denver during the next three evenings on many public radio stations and at npr.org.

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