In his first year in office, Obama boasted of two close friendships, both with Republicans much older than him—Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Richard Lugar of Indiana. With both now gone from the Senate, Obama aides struggle to name other friends. The closest seem to be McCaskill and Democratic Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania. One former White House aide told National Journal that Obama’s “close relationship” with McCaskill “started when he campaigned for her Senate bid in 2006 from his neighboring state.” It was then cemented in his 2008 presidential campaign.
“It was never lost on him that she endorsed him over Hillary Clinton just months after arriving in the Senate,” said the former aide. “It was a gutsy play on her part, and his loyalty to her has grown into a close personal friendship.”
Another former White House staffer described a similar path for Casey. Obama never forgot Casey’s 2008 primary endorsement. Even now, he said, the president speaks regularly with Casey, often about personal matters. But few other senators are blessed with that kind of personal interaction with the president.
Some senators didn’t really regard Obama as ever being one of them. Then-Sen. Max Baucus told The New York Times that Obama “didn’t really serve in the Senate.” He was reflecting the widespread view that Obama never threw himself into his Senate duties so much as use his Senate perch to quickly launch his White House bid. In that, he was merely following the route paved by both Harding and Kennedy, neither of whom were Senate heavyweights, instead viewing Capitol Hill as a way station to the White House.