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Casey steels himself for a painful loss after a bitter fight

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

By Dennis B. Roddy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

SCRANTON -- As rain clouds sputtered over Bob Casey Jr.'s hometown, the son of a governor prepared for what now seems like a family right of passage: a loss on his first try for the state's highest office.

Bob Casey Jr. delivers his concession speech last night in Scranton. His his wife, Terese, and two of their daughters, Marena, 5, and Julia, 8, are standing next to him. (Lake Fong, Post-Gazette)

The first portent might have been the encounter with Freaky Freddy. There are many men named Freddy in Pennsylvania and a number of them are freaky, but this was an interview, live, on the radio at 9 a.m. and Freddy was asking the questions.

Casey, whose clearest recollection of his interrogator was that he had purple hair, went through the litany: economic development, job training, health care. Freddy shot back by demanding to know where Casey stood on the issue of young people being busted in Wilkes-Barre for skateboarding on the sidewalks. Casey, who has issued 14 position papers in his campaign for governor, had to admit he hadn't developed a skateboarding policy.

After a stop at polling places unnervingly devoid of voters, the Casey entourage drifted to a diner called The Glider. It was an apt metaphor: They settled at a place named after a plane that lands where the wind sends it.

A companion invited him to think the unthinkable.

"If I lose?" Casey said. "I wouldn't be thinking about running for anything very soon." As if to ward off the jinx, Casey remembered his father, who finally got the governor's office on his fourth try.

"It took him 20 years," Casey said, looking down into a cup of tea. "Twenty. Long. Years."

Election days are, for candidates, largely a ritual. Casey had himself photographed voting at 9:30 a.m. At campaign headquarters on Lackawanna Avenue, he made a half-dozen symbolic phone calls at his own phone bank urging strangers to get out and vote for him.

In a side room, aides were tallying voter turnout projections from around the state. The campaign had hoped for a light voter turnout in Philadelphia and its suburban counties, where Ed Rendell's lopsided polling numbers threatened to overwhelm Casey.

The early stages of Casey's campaign had been a closed-casket affair. He declined interviews. He made few public appearances. He turned down an hour of free time on the Pennsylvania Cable Network.

What was he doing?

In one interview, he explained it pointedly by raising and lowering his hand from table to ear. Casey had been fund-raising.

"It just eats up an incredible amount of time," he said. And for all that, he was still outspent by $3 million.

Sixteen years earlier, Bob Casey's father had scraped his opponent off the political map with a barrage of negative ads. In 1986, the father capped the campaign with an ad that depicted his opponent, Bill Scranton, as a cultist. The spot included sitar music and a photo of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a guru who turned out to be surprisingly unpopular in Lancaster County.

This time there was no sitar music, just a steady tape loop decrying Ed Rendell as the man who ruined Philadelphia for its union members who, as it turned out, have about as much pull in Pennsylvania as the Maharishi.

Outside the matching rallies Monday -- Wilkes-Barre at 6 p.m., Scranton at 8 -- a loudspeaker thumped out an ad boasting Casey's virtues, culminating with the theme of the campaign's finale: "Trust."

A day later, at The Glider, Karen Walsh, the Casey press secretary, sat in a booth and thumbed through the menu of songs on the little jukebox attached to the wall.

"Matchbox 20 -- that's Bobby's favorite band," Walsh said. She looked for songs that promised some hope for the moment.

"`Shame,' 'Bang,' 'Damn,' '3 A.M.' " Walsh read off the list. "Let's hope that's not an omen." She turned to a selection of offerings by Madonna. "Nothing Really Matters,' 'The Power of Good-Bye.'"

Casey was sanguine, even as rain spattered the state's northeast -- the only place in Pennsylvania to get hit yesterday.

As Casey mulled over the past 18 months, someone had poked the buttons in the jukebox and a Matchbox 20 tune began to drift out, with the words, "I wish the real world would just stop hassling me ... ."

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