By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — GOP U.S. Senate hopeful Tom Smith grew up on an Armstrong County farm and spent two decades running a coal mining business, both of which he used to illustrate his political agenda.
When business is bad, “you downsize.” And if elected, that’s what he’d do to federal agencies, he said, determining which programs could be cut, if not eliminated.
Smith shared a farm analogy of a leaking tractor fuel tank to discuss how he’d treat the federal deficit.
“Do you continue to keep putting fuel in it? No. Fix the leaks,” Smith said to the media Monday during a Pennsylvania Press Club event at the Harrisburg Hilton.
But his series of fumbling comments regarding his pro-life stance, in which he appeared to liken unplanned pregnancies to those occurring from rape, garnered the most attention.
Smith said his business-owner background will help him topple incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. But Smith has yet to resonate with Pennsylvania voters, if recent polling is any indication.
Casey leads the race with 55 percent to 37 percent, according to a Quinnipiac poll released at the beginning of August. The poll surveyed more than 1,100 voters with a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.
A month of campaigning changed little: The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s poll released Monday shows 53 percent of polled voters will vote for or are likely to pick Casey, with 34 saying the same for Smith. The poll surveyed 601 voters with a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
As the election gets closer, the race has taken a hostile turn.
Smith laid it on first when he dubbed Casey “Senator Zero,” and called him an ineffective lawmaker who cannot get bills passed. Then, this past week, the Casey campaign launched its own review of Smith’s statements, calling him “Tea Party Tom Smith” and criticizing Smith’s stances on taxes and Medicare.
Financially, Casey has more muscle to throw behind his campaign, with $10.6 million raised as of the end of June. Smith had raised $7.9 million by the same deadline,, according to federal records compiled by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.
On Monday, Smith pointed out Casey’s votes to increase the debt ceiling seven times, and said the incumbent has voted in line with President Barack Obama 90 percent of the time. Throughout his speech, Smith described Casey as “a follower” and “a career politician” with “a famous political name.”
In the run-up to Election Day, Smith is bent on bringing out Casey’s record, which he said will help him curry favor with voters who are “crying for change.”
“We get our name out there, we get Bob Casey’s voting record and what our ideas are, and that will be a winning combination,” he said.
On the energy economy, Smith said the Marcellus shale gas drilling industry is an example of free enterprise system at its best, driving down costs for natural gas. When asked whether natural gas or federal regulations are hampering Pennsylvania’s coal industry, Smith said coal will come back as the global economy recovers, and coal has been fighting regulations for decades.
He also said the free enterprise system should determine what types of energy sources can fuel the nation, including renewables. The government should not “pick winners and losers,” he said.
“The people of Pennsylvania and across the country deserve the most reliable source of energy available,” Smith said. “If that’s coal and gas combined, fine, if that’s coal, gas and nuclear fine, let the free enterprise system do that.”N
Smith: No abortions in rape cases
On the topic of abortion, Smith said he is pro-life 100 percent of the time, even in cases of rape. He also said he did not agree with Missouri U.S. Rep. Todd Akin‘s recent comments on “legitimate rape.” But further explanation to defend his position landed Smith into a confusing question and answer session.
When reporters asked how he would defend his pro-life stance to a daughter or granddaughter in the case of a rape, Smith said he lived “a similar situation” with a daughter who had a child out of wedlock.
When later asked to clarify if he was comparing that situation to a case involving rape, Smith said life begins at conception, and he is against abortion at all times.
“I’m not going to argue about the method of that conception. It’s life. And I’m pro-life. It’s that simple,” he said.