If the Republicans are to re-capture the U.S. Senate in November, they will have to take some seats in blue states. One of the most intriguing pick-up opportunities is in Pennsylvania, where incumbent Democrat Sen. Bob Casey finds himself in a tough fight with a tough man: farmer and businessman Tom Smith.
Tom Smith grew up on a dairy farm in western Pennsylvania’s Armstrong County. Dairy farmers get out of bed long before dawn and often work well past sundown. Smith took over the family dairy when he was just 19 years old and his father passed away. While keeping that business thriving, he set about in 1989 to get into the coal-mining business. By the time he sold off his coal interests in 2010, his companies employed more than 100 people.
This hard-working, close-to-the-earth background is one that Smith intends to take to Washington. He has traveled the Keystone State from west to east – he was on a campaign bus between events when I interviewed him – and turned a 20-point deficit in the polls into a true toss-up as Election Day nears. Quinnipiac says that as of October 16 Casey leads by just three points, which is within the margin of error. Smith says his campaign’s internal polls show his race and the presidential race tightening, and that Pennsylvania is very much in play. Those same polls show that Romney has a very good chance of being the first Republican presidential candidate since 1988 to capture Pennsylvania’s electoral votes.
Added to the polls and the positive trends, Bob Casey’s record, says Smith, will haunt him.
“Casey votes with Obama 95% of the time,” Smith said. “He voted for the stimulus, he voted for ObamaCare, it just goes on and on. Casey’s is a voting record that is going to be very hard to defend to the people of Pennsylvania.”
Smith also noted that Casey has contributed to the lack of leadership in the U.S. Senate over the past few years. “I brought forth a plan” for the economy “several weeks ago; my opponent has never come forward with a plan.” That, says Smith, is a symptom of a larger problem with Sen. Casey. “The U.S. Senate under Democrat control has not even passed a budget in over three years. The people of Pennsylvania are not happy about that. It’s not only not voting on a budget, it’s not even coming forward with any plans.”
Smith touted his plans, available on his campaign web site, that begin with simplifying the tax code, ending out-of-control federal spending, ending “oppressive regulation that suffocates growth and kills jobs,” exploiting more domestic energy sources, and reforming health care and Social Security. His health care reform plan includes allowing interstate insurance competition and tort reform while decreasing mandates and increasing personal health care choices.
“People are concerned bordering on fear for the future for their children and grandchildren,” says Smith, on the state of the economy. “People’s big concern is the economy and jobs. Deficit spending and national security too.” Casey’s record, or lack of any record, will be key to beating him.
Smith’s background in one of the state’s bedrock industries, coal mining, also form his views of the Democrats’ “war on coal.” Smith says, “It’s almost all energy. Coal has a bad name but that industry has cleaned up unbelievably. It’s not just a phrase, ‘clean coal’; it’s here. Coal is the cheapest and most reliable source of energy there is and the people of Pennsylvania deserve it. The foundation for a strong and vibrant economy is a stable source of energy and that’s coal.”
But Smith is a Republican running in Pennsylvania. Doesn’t it tend to be a fairly blue state?
“It’s true that in 2008 Pennsylvania went for Obama, but in 2010 the voters started turning this state pink,” Smith said. “That year they elected Sen. Pat Toomey” along with a slate of Republicans for House, the legislature, and the governorship. “Fifty-two of sixty-seven counties in the state are now in Republican hands,” said Smith, “and that’s where we’re going to have a lot of grassroots support for this campaign.”
The Casey name still looms large in Pennsylvania thanks to the current first-term senator’s father, who served as governor. But history looms larger, according to Tom Smith. “There has not been a sitting Democratic U.S. senator re-elected in the state of Pennsylvania in over 50 years,” said Smith with confidence in his voice. “I’m doing everything that I can to make sure that history prevails.” He added that his win would provide evidence that formerly blue Pennsylvania is trending red. He has a point: to the state’s Republican governor, state legislative majority, U.S. House delegation majority, and Sen. Pat Toomey, would be added Republican Sen. Tom Smith.
“In a few short weeks voters in this state will make a decision: Do we want a bigger government and less freedoms, or a smaller government and more freedoms? Bob Casey is not the person to stand up and defend smaller government.”
Tom Smith says that if he is elected to represent Pennsylvania in the Senate, he will.