When Howard Dean, chair of the Democratic National Committee, visited Lawrenceville's Church Brew Works for a July 18 rally, he barely noticed the Young Republicans holding a derisive "scream contest" nearby.
"I don't blame them," Dean said in a telephone interview the next day. "I'd scream too if I elected a president who couldn't run the country and didn't tell the truth."
The screams of Republicans, however, may prove less troubling than the groans of disenchanted Democrats. Dean urged the July crowd to support state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. in his race for U.S. Senate against Rick Santorum next year, but resentment lingers over the way party elders have given Casey the inside track for the nomination. Like Santorum, Casey is pro-life, putting him at odds with many Democratic activists.
"Women are so furious in this state, I can't tell you," says Jeanne Clark, a local activist who has publicly opposed Casey's nomination. "And part of my concern is that I don't think Casey can win." The Dems ran a pro-life Democrat, Congressman Ron Klink, against Santorum in 2000, Clark points out. Klink was steamrolled in that race.
"I thought we had a thing called a 'primary,'" says Gloria Forouzan, who has spearheaded local efforts to increase female representation in politics. Instead, she says, the party is trying to pick the nominee in a closed-door process. "I guess the Dems took a cue from the papal proceedings earlier this year."
"I can understand people feeling disappointed" about the primary being pre-empted, Dean says. "But in my defense, I didn't have anything to do with that." Casey's selection was engineered by New York Sen. Charles Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
"The Democratic Party isn't going to run away from" its pro-choice position, Dean pledges. "Whether [Casey] gets elected to the U.S. Senate or not, it's not going to make any difference to a woman's right to health care. But it will have a big effect on Pell Grants [for college students], affirmative action and the minimum wage."
Dems do have another option. In a visit less celebrated than Dean's, aspiring candidate Chuck Pennacchio met with a score of supporters on the South Side Slopes July 24. A Bucks County college professor, Pennacchio is pro-choice and his campaign is clearly targeting the Democrats' activist base. Casey "supports raising the minimum wage; I support a living wage," he says. And Dean's support of Casey, Pennacchio says, is a bit ironic: "Dean's line has always been 'No more Republican Lite.' But the definition of Republican Lite is Bob Casey Jr."