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Casey's opponent unknown to most prospective voters, poll finds

| Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012, 11:57 p.m.
At left: Armstrong County businessman Tom Smith. At right: Sen. Bob Casey.

Most Pennsylvania voters don't know enough about Armstrong County businessman Tom Smith to determine if they should support the Republican's bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, according to Franklin & Marshall College opinion poll released Thursday.

“It's a huge state, and it takes a lot of time and a lot of money and effort to get your name recognition up, and that's Smith's most serious problem right now,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs.

Nationally, political analysts believe Casey, a Scranton Democrat, is likely to win re-election — a perception that has limited Smith's ability to raise money from conservative groups outside Pennsylvania, Madonna said.

“If (Smith) were to dump $5 million to $8 million into name recognition commercials” he could raise his profile among voters, Madonna said.

Smith, 64, is a self-made millionaire who spent $4 million of his own money in the Republican primary. He said his campaign began buying time this week to air ads in Philadelphia, the state's largest TV market.

The poll showed Casey, 52, is leading Smith 35 percent to 23 percent, with 39 percent of voters undecided. When voters who are leaning toward a candidate are included, Casey had 43 percent, Smith had 28 percent and 24 percent remained undecided.

President Obama leads in the poll with 44 percent against Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who had 38 percent. Fifteen percent were undecided, according to the poll of 681 registered Pennsylvania voters. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.8 percentage points.

Franklin & Marshall conducted the poll before Romney announced U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as his running mate.

Corrine Hopkins, 86, of Glassport said she plans to vote for Smith because his personal story of rising from a coal miner to a mining company owner shows he has the ability to lead.

“He seems like the type of person who would be able to help create jobs for people,” said Hopkins, a retired bookkeeper and registered Republican.

Reducing the nation's 8.3 percent unemployment rate and reversing Obama's signature health care law are her top priorities.

Hopkins said she agrees with the Catholic church's opposition to Obamacare because it doesn't exempt Catholic institutions such as charities, hospitals and schools from covering contraceptives under employee health benefits.

Frank Conti, 83, of Sharpsville said he will vote to re-elect the Democrats.

The Korean War veteran and former millwright said Obama's health care plan will make America more competitive with other nations.

Conti said he doesn't know enough about Smith to determine if he's a better Senate candidate.

He's not alone.

Sixty-eight percent of voters surveyed said they “don't know” Smith; 27 percent said they weren't familiar with Casey.

“These are dismal numbers for Casey, a well-known career politician,” said Jim Conroy, Smith's campaign manager. “As voters learn more about Tom Smith, a self-made job creator with a plan to grow the economy, the polls will only continue to tighten.”

“We aren't paying attention to public polls,” said Larry Smar, Casey's campaign manager.

Smar said Casey has “a long record of delivering for Pennsylvania.”

Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or jboren@tribweb.com.

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