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Is one of the Mighty Casey's in jeopardy

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HARRISBURG

Will Pennsylvania's Mr. Smith go to Washington?

Tom Smith, that is. The former coal executive and farmer of Armstrong County was written off even by his own party when he decided to seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. And if he did somehow win, he'd be taking on the mighty Casey name in Bob Casey, son of the late Democrat Gov. Robert P. Casey.

Smith's party didn't support him.

The former Democrat switched parties to run for the Senate because he says he was outraged by the policies of President Obama and wanted to be in a position to do something about it.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett twisted arms at the GOP State Committee meeting in January and convinced the party to endorse Steve Welch, whom no one had heard of then (or since).

But Smith had lots of money. He flooded the airwaves with TV ads telling his story of working his way up from a coal miner to a coal company owner and won the primary.

At a state committee gathering little more than a week ago, Smith received a standing ovation when he rose to speak. He received positive comments from Corbett and Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey via video saying Smith is a guy he'd like to have with him in Washington.

Tom Smith put his money where his mouth was.

All of a sudden the guy with the common name has name recognition. He also has a hard-hitting TV ad about Casey's record.

Last spring Casey led in polls by 18 to 20 percentage points. Last week, RealClearPolitics.com showed Casey with an average lead of 7 percentage points. A Tribune-Review poll showed Casey with a 5 percentage point advantage, almost within the margin of error.

Smith's rise is not only about gaining name recognition. It's about Casey not standing for much of anything, save being pro-life. But that's not an accomplishment, per se. It's a position.

Smith also says he's pro-life.

“Tea Party Tom” is how Casey characterizes him in ads. “Senator Zero” is how the Smith campaign refers to Casey because he's never had a bill passed.

Are Casey supporters worried? Some are. But it depends how much more money Smith's willing to spend.

Casey noted he's up against a “self-funded candidate” in citing reasons why he didn't speak at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

RealClearPolitics calls it a “Democratic leaning” race — and you'd have to say Casey has the edge.

But the potential is there for a huge upset.

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

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