Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Smith Chips Away at Casey in Senate Race

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Smith Chips Away at Casey in Senate Race

Article excerpt

Tom Smith is riding high on his combine these days, and not just because the seat is 12 feet from the ground.

Just weeks ago pundits and pollsters considered Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race an easy win for incumbent Bob Casey, but new polls have some Democrats worried that it could slip into Mr. Smith's hands.

Polls still show Mr. Casey ahead, but his once substantial lead has been whittled to the single digits.

The freshman senator told reporters Thursday that he's been expecting the race to narrow as the election approached, pointing to the state's history of close contests and to the significant spending by his opponent.

"I'm actually not a bit surprised," he said during his appearance at a Communications Workers of America event in Hershey. "Way back in the spring, we began to prepare for this type of a race and I'm glad we did."

As the race has tightened, it also has gotten more national attention.

"This was always a seat that was considered safe for the Democrats so it hasn't been in the national calculation but now it could throw off all the seat counting that's going on. If this slips into the Republican column, that would turn the Senate calculus on its head," said Chris Borick, political scientist and polling director at Muhlenberg College.

Mr. Smith, 64, is a wealthy conservative farmer and businessman who made his fortune in coal, grain, trucking and car washes. Until now the only political office he has held was township supervisor, and that was decades ago.

Mr. Casey, 52, meanwhile, has been a state auditor general, state treasurer and, for the last six years, U.S. senator. He is chairman of the Joint Economic Commission and chairman of a Foreign Relations subcommittee.

But because he's been a mild-mannered, low-key lawmaker who doesn't seek the limelight, voters don't think a lot about him and that's given Mr. Smith's negative ads a chance to take hold, said political scientists and pollsters.

The Casey campaign responded by pointing out key roles the senator played in extending the payroll tax break and improving pay parity for women, but didn't have a counterattack at the ready, said Thomas Baldino, professor of political science at Wilkes University.

When Mr. Casey has attacked back, his messages hammered home the same theme: that Mr. Smith is a radical tea partyer who would increase partisanship in already gridlocked Washington.

"That maybe stopped the bleeding a little bit, but I don't know how much you can keep going back to that. You've got to expand the message and do something more to define him," Mr. Borick said.

Mr. Casey had a lot of advantages going into the race. He's running in a blue state during a presidential election year, when voter turnout is higher, Mr. Borick said. He's also the son and namesake of a popular former governor. …

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