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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tom Smith Is Down But Not Out

Tea Party founder and candidate for Senator from Pennsylvania, Tom Smith trails incumbent Senator Bob Casey 42 to 21 in the latest Franklin and Marshall poll. Clearly, Smith has some catching up to do but one would hardly call his situation desperate. Richard Mourdock trailed Senator Dick Lugar earlier this year and many including myself doubted if he could ever overtake the well funded Lugar. Fortunately I didn't bet money on that race as Mourdock won decisively.
My first observation is Casey is well below 50 %. Anytime a candidate polls less than 50% he is vulnerable. The poll also finds that 35 % of the voters are undecided. In Smith's case he has never run for statewide or any public office before and is not well known. Casey, on the other hand, is a legacy politician. His father served as Governor of Pennsylvania. Casey has held his Senate seat since he defeated Rick Santorum six years ago and notwithstanding that 35% of the voters are not ready to commit to vote for him while another 21 percent prefer Smith. If you have been married for six years and answer "undecided" to the question "Do you expect to be married to the same person next year?" it would suggest that you are something less than thrilled with your spouse. The "undecided vote" will not be split evenly-Smith will win it by as much as 8 or even 10 to 1 simply because the undecideds know Bob Casey and have a problem with him. Casey has not won the hearts and minds of Pennsylvania voters as 40 percent of those polled responded that he has done “only a fair job” or a “poor job,” compared to 38 percent who say he has done an “excellent job” or “good job.” 21 percent remain undecided on his performance.
President Obama has done much to make Smith's job easier. The EPA's war on coal has made Obama so unpopular in the coal fields that in West Virginia a jailbird in a federal pen was able to win 40% of the Democratic primary vote and in Kentucky about the same percentage of Democrat voters preferred "uncommitted" to Obama. I doubt if Obama is much more popular in McKeesport or Johnstown.
By picking a fight with the Catholic bishops in the Obamacare contraceptive mandate Obama again gave Smith a leg up. Pennsylvania is 53% Roman Catholic and while Casey maybe a Catholic, conservative Catholics have long had a problem with Catholic politicians who don't vigorously stand on principle. Add in Obama's evolutionary position on gay marriage and one can expect Obama, and by association Casey, to lose more votes. I would put Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan in the same boat as Casey. Only Senator Joe Manchin by putting a rifle bullet through the proposed Cap and Trade bill has successfully dissociated himself from the Washington Democratic establishment.
The 2010 election was a wave election and 2012 may well be also. In a wave election the electorate decides that the party, not the incumbent is the problem so no matter how compelling his voting record he has to go. The 2010 election saw many non politicians elected to the Senate such as Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rand Paul of Kentucky both with enthusiastic Tea Party support and there is every reason to expect this trend to continue. Pennsylvania can be hard on incumbent senators.Bob Casey has no assurances that Arlen Spector and Rick Santorum didn't have. I'd bet money on Tom Smith!

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