Smith slashes Casey's lead in Senate contest, poll finds
Republican U.S. Senate nominee Tom Smith narrowed the race against Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr., pulling nearly even in a Tribune-Review poll.
Casey polled 46 percent to Smith's 45 percent among likely voters, with 8 percent undecided, according to the survey by Susquehanna Polling & Research in Harrisburg.
Those figures show stagnation for Casey but a 4-point gain for Smith since a Trib-commissioned poll Sept. 12.
The more recent poll of 800 people from Oct. 29-31 has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.
“The momentum has clearly gone to Smith,” said Susquehanna President Jim Lee. He argued Casey made “a near-fatal” mistake by allowing Smith a chance to cast his political persona.
“You never allow the challenger to define himself or herself on his own terms,” Lee said.
He said Smith, 65, of Plumcreek in Armstrong County capitalized by presenting himself as an independent Republican “who won't be an automatic vote for the policies of the current administration.”
Smith has “the money to play in a state as expensive (for advertising) and diverse as Pennsylvania,” Lee said.
The poll shows Casey, 52, of Scranton with a higher favorability rating: 40 percent to Smith's 38 percent. Fewer voters have a negative view of the men; each notched a 34 percent unfavorable rating.
Casey's name is well-regarded in Pennsylvania — his late father was two-term Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr. — but Lee said messages are proving more important than image in this election cycle.
“The message that Smith brought to the table trumped, I think, the Casey image,” Lee said.
Other polls show Smith trailing the one-term senator by wider margins. A RealClearPolitics average of four late-October polls found Casey leading Smith by an estimated 6.2 percentage points, 47 percent to 40.8 percent.
In Beaver County, voter Forrest Wilson finds Smith “not that impressive” but leans toward voting for him, anyway.
“The biggest thing I have against Bob Casey is (his) following through with the Obamacare fiasco,” said Wilson, 44, a Republican in Raccoon. He worries about the federal Affordable Care Act because his insurance rates keep “going up, up, up, up.”
“I think it's more anti-Casey than it is (for) Tom Smith,” Wilson said of his stance. “Bob Casey is definitely (following) party lines.”
The Obamacare question cuts both ways. Marla Purdy, 56, of Lower Paxton in Dauphin County said Casey's support for the health care act is a key to her enthusiasm for the senator.
She said Smith's Tea Party ties, highlighted by the Casey campaign, are an extra turnoff.
“And I think Smith's negative ads are very exaggerated,” said Purdy, a Democrat.
For Gregory Scheer, Casey's record is worrisome. He pointed in part to Casey's backing of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as the TARP bailout, and the failure of the Senate to pass a federal budget.
“If I wanted something like this, I would move to St. Petersburg (in Russia) and not worry about it,” said Scheer, 48, of Montrose in Susquehanna County.
But where Scheer, a Republican, sees Smith as a down-to-earth family man, Raymond F. Bianchin of Bridgeville sees an arrogant Tea Party supporter.
Casey “seems more for the middle class — more than Smith does,” said Bianchin, 69, a Democrat. “I consider myself middle class. I feel (Casey) is more involved with the middle class than Mr. Smith is.”
Casey spokesman Mark Nicastre said the Susquehanna poll is wrong, calling it “out of step” with other surveys.
A Franklin & Marshall College poll conducted Oct. 23-28 found an 11-point lead for Casey. Its margin of error was 4.2 percentage points.
“Pennsylvanians are rejecting Smith's agenda of supporting unfair trade deals, refusing to crack down on China's currency manipulation, and raising taxes on the middle class while giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans,” Nicastre wrote via email.
Smith campaign manager Jim Conroy called Casey an ineffective senator who's “anything but independent.”
“Tom is not a career politician,” Conroy said of the farmer and former coal mine owner. “He is someone who has lived in the private sector under the regulation that the president and Bob Casey are forcing on small business. He knows the effect they have on job creation. Particularly in this region, his experience in the energy industry, we think, is appealing to voters.”
Adam Smeltz is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or email@example.com.