WASHINGTON - In the nation's capital, the power-hungry - or the just plain hungry - can always find free food at the many receptions held in the halls of Congress.
Add to that list "Breakfast with Bob."
In an effort to reach out to Pennsylvanians visiting Washington, freshman Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) is hosting a series of coffee-and-doughnut receptions to engage constituents in informal conversations and make his staff available to the wider public.
"It's a great way to see people who are visiting, either students or tourists, or some are from Pennsylvania and have an issue before the federal government, and some work here," Casey said yesterday as he greeted guests.
The morning's session, however, was more K Street than Main Street as lobbyists from downtown firms and visiting associations far outnumbered regular folks from Pennsylvania. Even the doughnuts - plebeian fare for the steak and sushi set - were eschewed more than chewed.
One non-power-suited young woman holding a doughnut turned out to be a Pennsylvania State University aerospace-engineering student - who was there to lobby for NASA.
Casey's spokeswoman said previous breakfasts - this was the fourth - have been better attended and more, well, diverse. This event drew fewer than 20 people, less than half the attendance of previous breakfasts.
"As tourist season picks up more, it will be a great opportunity for Sen. Casey to meet with people from Pennsylvania," said Kendra Barkoff of the senator's staff.
Barkoff said that announcements of the breakfasts - usually held at two-week intervals - were posted on Casey's Senate Web site. Staffers answering Casey's office phones are instructed to inform constituents who will be in town of future breakfasts.
Casey said he liked the informality of the setting and the time - 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. - when he is not rushing between votes or pausing in the hallway. The composition of his kaffeeklatsch varies, he said.
"Sometimes you get more people who are from the state, what I would call 'real people,' and other times it's disproportionately Washington-based," Casey said.
Of course, if you want to meet "real people," some might say Washington is a questionable choice.
At yesterday's event, Casey and other staff members circulated in a reception room across from his office in the Russell Senate Office Building.
There was Daryl Colon of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, representing flight attendants from Continental Airlines - many of whom live in the Poconos and the Allentown area, he said - who wanted to talk about the effect of exposure to cosmic radiation on air crews.
Then there was Joe Borruso of Cardone Industries Inc. in Philadelphia, a remanufacturer of engine starters, alternators, brakes, and other automobile parts. Borruso and other members of the Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association desired words with the senator about the threat posed by cheaper auto parts being made in China and India.
A man in shorts and polo shirt told Casey staffers he was from Erie and had a complaint about housing. He was assisted by a staffer in constituent services.
Casey said he had been pleasantly surprised that a few students had appeared at each of the sessions.
"I really urge young people to get involved," he said.
The lone student yesterday was Jessica Tramaglini of Pittsburgh, a Penn State junior who said she had been in Washington all week with a group called Citizens for the Exploration and Development of Space, which is seeking increased funding for NASA.
So you're lobbying?
"Yes," she said brightly.
Barkoff said she expected the crowds to grow at future breakfasts. "When people hear what a great opportunity this is, we'll get more," she said.
Washington breakfasts are planned for June 7 and 21, and July 12 and 26. In-state open houses are being arranged, including one in Casey's Center City office at 2000 Market St., Barkoff said, but no dates have been set.