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Health care still top issue in Senate race between Smith, Casey

At left: Armstrong County businessman Tom Smith. At right: Sen. Bob Casey.

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Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Republican Senate challenger Tom Smith has consolidated GOP support since winning a five-way primary in April, but he continues to trail U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., according to a Tribune-Review poll.

Casey, D-Scranton, is slightly ahead of Smith of Armstrong County, 46 percent to 41 percent, in the survey conducted Sept. 18-20 by Susquehanna Polling & Research. The poll of 800 voters has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.46 percentage points.

Casey and Smith have the support of about three-fourths of their parties' voters, said Jim Lee, president of the polling firm. But state Democrats have a 1 million-voter registration advantage.

“That's why you'd have to give the advantage to Casey,” Lee said. “For Smith, he's got to basically squeeze every last vote out of the Republican base. He can't lose 15 percent of the GOP vote. And he's got to win conservative Democrats who historically have voted for Casey because Casey's a conservative Democrat on social issues.”Casey spokesman Larry Smar noted other polls have shown Casey's lead as wide as 19 percentage points, adding, “The real number is probably somewhere in between.” Casey beat former Sen. Rick Santorum by 17.4 percentage points in 2006.

“Bob Casey will continue to communicate his record of fighting for middle-class families, against unfair foreign trade and against attempts to end Medicare as we know it,” Smar said.

Smith supports Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's plan to offer seniors a choice between sticking with government insurance or using a voucher to purchase private insurance, he said at an appearance last month in Western Pennsylvania.

“This race has continued to tighten as voters are now beginning to contrast the records of proven job creator Tom Smith and ineffective career politician Bob Casey,” said Smith campaign manager Jim Conroy.

The health care law remains a top concern for supporters of both candidates, the poll found.

“I just completely disagree with Sen. Casey's stand on the issues,” said Bob Pennington, 43, a power plant operator for Norfolk Southern Corp., who lives in Irvona, Clearfield County. He said health care and government spending are his top concerns.

But retired state trooper Jerry Boulding, 54, of Beaver Falls said he doesn't believe Smith, a former coal company owner, has his interests at heart.

“I feel (Casey) will help the middle class and the poor,” Boulding said. A lifelong Democrat, Boulding said health care and job creation top his list of concerns. “Mostly health care. A lot of people I know either have substandard health care or none at all.”

Former New York police Officer Frank Albergo, an undecided independent voter from East Stroudsburg, Monroe County, called the health care law “a nice idea” but asked, “How are we going to pay for it?”

Smith wants to repeal the health care law, which Casey voted for. The Congressional Budget Offices estimated that repealing the law would cut $890 billion in spending and $1 trillion in tax revenues, increasing the deficit by $109 billion.

Albergo, 52, agrees with Republicans that spending is out of control, but he sides with Democrats on maintaining the social safety net.

“The only things I don't want cut are Social Security, Medicare and the military,” Albergo said.

Susquehanna Polling acknowledged the gap between its results in the Senate and presidential races — the same poll found President Obama and Romney separated by 2 percentage points, far fewer than other surveys — in a post on its website that explained the firm's methodology.

Susquehanna, which polls for the state Republican Party and GOP candidates, picked its sample of likely voters to reflect an electorate that looks demographically more like the voters who turned out in the 2004 election than the 2008 election. According to the post, voter enthusiasm levels in the state are closer to 2004, when Sen. John Kerry beat President Bush by 2.5 percentage points in Pennsylvania, than 2008 when Obama won the state by 10 percentage points.

Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or

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