Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, recalls the days his party was beset by in-fighting. Photographer: Keith Bedford/Bloomberg
Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, recalls the days his party was beset by in-fighting. Photographer: Keith Bedford/Bloomberg

The two U.S. political parties have switched roles: Now, it's the Republicans who are beset by internal divisions, says Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat.

"We've accommodated our differences" better, he says, recalling the splits in his party a generation ago over national security and social issues such as abortion and gay rights.

These days, the once relatively homogeneous Republicans are the ones having intense internal battles.

"If our leadership all had primaries," Casey said at a Bloomberg News breakfast, "it would take my breath away."

Senior Republicans have been challenged by right-wing candidates in primaries. This week, Thad Cochran, a six-term senator from Mississippi, was forced into a runoff by a Tea Party challenger. He may well lose.

"A lot of what they're going through is what we went through in the `70s, `80s and `90s," said Casey, whose father was elected governor of Pennsylvania in 1986. Both the son and the father, now deceased, were strongly anti-abortion and conservative on social issues and liberal on economic questions. That posture seems less divisive among Democrats today than it was a generation ago.

Why, Casey was asked, did the dynamics change for Democrats?: "At some point we fell in love with winning," he said.

Separately, he praised the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in his state, businessman Tom Wolf. Although Pennsylvania is a major coal-producing state, Casey said he didn't believe President Barack Obama's recent proposal to cut carbon-dioxide emissions -- opposed by the coal industry -- would hurt Wolf.

That, he said, will be "a lot less significant" than the assessment voters make of incumbent Republican Governor Tom Corbett, who has low ratings in the polls.

Casey added that Wolf "doesn't look, think or sound like a politician." That, he suggested, is a big asset in 2014.

To contact the writer of this article: Al Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for the article: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net