BOB'S BACK.

Pennsylvania's senior U.S. senator, Robert P. Casey Jr., seldom seen, rarely heard, is back in the news. It's an election year.

You may remember Casey from 2006, when he convincingly ousted Republican Sen. Rick Santorum and put Rick on the road to a presidential run.

Well, now Casey faces Republican newcomer, rich-guy farmer, former coal king Tom Smith, of Armstrong County, about whom the only question I've ever gotten is, "What's his real name?"

No need to ask that about Democrat Casey, he of the state's golden political name and the oldest son of the late Gov. (and "the real") Robert P. Casey.

Young Bob spoke this week at a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon in Harrisburg, where he said all the right things, distanced himself a bit from President Obama and left the door ajar for a someday run for governor (again).

He also defended himself against a recent Smith attack labeling him "Senator Zero."

The Smith camp says that since taking office in 2007, Casey has introduced 324 bills, most within the past year, but none that has been enacted.

Casey countered that he's had direct impact on legislation that became law, ranging from keeping the payroll-tax cut to adding provisions to the health-care law and a new adoption-tax credit.

He also stressed that he's an "independent" voice for Pennsylvania who parts ways with President Obama on trade issues. And he somewhat distanced himself from Obama's recent assertion, "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

Asked about the comment, Casey said that people building businesses are successful for lots of reasons, adding, "One of the reasons they are successful is that they work hard."

(Mitt Romney's camp quickly posted a clip of Casey's comment, claiming that Casey "rebuked" the president, which is, to be kind, an extraordinary stretch.)

Latest Pennsylvania polls show Obama narrowly leading Romney, 48-44, and Casey leading Smith by a more-comfortable 49-38, although this 11-point edge is down from June and May, when Casey led by 17 and 21 points, respectively.

Still, Casey should be a lock for re-election.

State Republicans desperately sought a name candidate to oppose him and, failing that, backed Chester County entrepreneur Steve Welch, who finished third in the April primary behind Smith, who spent $4 million of his own money, and former state Rep. Sam Rohrer of Berks County.

Latest financial filings show Casey ahead of Smith in fundraising, with more than $6 million on hand as opposed to Smith's $2 million, which includes another $1.5 million that Smith lent his own campaign.

So, unless Smith's money vein runs very deep, Casey seems safe.

And that's how he played it during and after Press Club remarks.

He called NCAA sanctions against Penn State "tough but, I think, necessary."

He stuck to his long-held pro-gun stance when asked about the Colorado movie-theater shootings: "I've been a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. … I don't think new legislation is going to positively impact the situation [in Colorado] that horrified all of us."

The only strange thing was his response to a question about whether he'd pledge to serve out all six years if elected to a second term.

He called it "an interesting question," which of course gave rise to speculation that he could challenge Gov. Corbett in 2014.

He even said that he was "tempted" to suggest the best person to do so, but declined to name that person.

Finally, after much post-event prodding by media, he said, "sure," he'd serve all six years of a second term if granted one.

This, if you do the math, means he'd be available to run for governor in 2018, the next open-seat election. So, you know, he might be back again.