Weeks ago, few people gave Republican Tom Smith much chance to oust Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr.
The $17 million Smith is spending out of pocket for the campaign changed that.
“We’ve got a race on our hands, and I’m as excited as can be,” Smith told the Tribune-Review. “Phrase it this way: We will, one way or another, have sufficient funds to run a competitive campaign and that’s what this is all about.”
On the other side, Casey said he must chase political donors to keep pace on spending. He acknowledges that even if all things were even, this is a tough time for those seeking to remain in office.
“We still have to focus on creating jobs and preserving jobs,” Casey told the Trib. “People are worried, and if you’re an incumbent, that’s difficult terrain.”
Smith reported last week having $7 million on hand at the end of September, compared with Casey’s $5.21 million. Smith increased his personal contribution by $10 million, adding to the nearly $7 million he’s put toward the campaign.
At the same time, Smith raised more money from donors in the third quarter: $1.643 million compared with Casey’s $1.517 million.
A Susquehanna Poll last week, commissioned by the state GOP, showed Smith with support from 48 percent of likely voters and Casey with 46 percent, within the poll’s 2.64-percent margin of error.
Libertarian candidate Rayburn Douglas Smith, 65, of Beaver Township in Clarion County did not file a campaign finance report. He said he did not raise or spend enough to meet federal reporting requirements.
Tom Smith’s financial advantage allowed him to spend about $7 million from July through September, compared with Casey’s $2.5 million.
Polling shows that spending affected voters, said Christopher Borick, political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. Casey had a lead of 20 points or more this summer.
“If you spend that type of money over a fairly short period of time, you’re going to get some return,” Borick said.
Money can buy name recognition for a challenger, but the candidate still must have a meaningful message, said Melanie Blumberg, political science professor at California University of Pennsylvania.
Smith, 65, of Plumcreek in Armstrong County said his message is based on experience. He started a coal mining company and sold it two years ago. He lives on the family farm where he grew up.
Until last year, Smith was a Democrat, albeit a conservative one. He briefly served on the Armstrong County Democratic Committee after winning a 2010 write-in election. As a senator, Smith said, he would focus on creating jobs and cutting government spending.
“Sen. Bob Casey is a career politician, and I’m a citizen candidate,” Smith said. “I brought forth a plan on how to get the economy growing. That’s what I’ve done for 44 years. I’ve run businesses, and I have a good understanding of how that’s done.”
Casey, 52, of Scranton said he wants to protect American jobs and took a tough stance on stopping unfair trade practices and opposing China’s currency manipulation to reduce the cost of its exports. He touts his support for the payroll tax cut, trade adjustment assistance in industries undermined by cheap imports, early-learning programs and workforce training.
“My record reflects that I’ve been an independent voice for the state,” Casey said. “The differences are substantial, and people have a pretty clear choice.”
The son of the late Gov. Bob Casey Sr., Casey benefited from name recognition early in the campaign but now needs to reach out to voters, particularly in suburban Philadelphia, to let them know where he stands, Borick said. Casey won the office in 2006 by beating incumbent Republican Rick Santorum.
Because Smith remains largely unknown to many Pennsylvanians, Casey could spend money in the final weeks to redefine his challenger, Borick said.
“Anything could happen, but it would be an amazing election victory if Tom Smith beats Bob Casey,” said Gerald Shuster, a political communications professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “He has just a mammoth task to overcome that magic Casey name and influence.”
Smith has overcome long odds before.
He won the Republican primary against four candidates, without the party’s endorsement. In the primary, he spent $3.4 million campaigning and is following a similar strategy now.
“We’re getting that message out there, and the voters of Pennsylvania see there is an option,” Smith said.
Casey said he expects the race to remain tight.
“I think it will probably be a close race down the stretch,” Casey said. “I think I can win, but it’s not going to be easy.”
Senators, paid $174,000 this year, serve six-year terms.