Meet Tom Smith, the Farmer and Businessman Who May Seal Pennsylvania's Transition from Blue to Red

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.