Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey speaks to union workers in Hershey, Dauphin County.
Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Bob Casey is on the campaign trail and illustrating the contrasts between himself and his Republican opponent.
For months, TV ads have done most of the campaigning for the Democratic incumbent. But recent surveys show GOP candidate Tom Smith is gaining ground with a campaign backed by millions of the former coal company owner’s own dollars.
Smith has accused Casey of being a do-nothing senator and someone who consistently backs Obama Administration policies.
Speaking to a couple-hundred union workers in Hershey, Dauphin County on Tuesday, Casey distanced himself from his caucus and Mr. Obama by pointing to his no-votes on three trade agreements passed last October.
“I was in a different place on that vote than some Democrats, including the president, and including a lot of Republicans who voted for those agreements as well,” said Casey. “But I took a look at all three and I tried to make an assessment, an independent judgment about whether those trade agreements would be in the best interest of our state.”
Casey also drew distinctions between himself and Smith on health care. Smith supports reforms that would eventually make Medicare no longer a “government-planned system.” Casey said that would mean the benefit would no longer be guaranteed.
“One side – happens to be my side – thinks we should not only protect that guaranteed benefit and stop anyone who’s trying to take it away, number one,” said Casey, “but we should take steps to strengthen that guaranteed benefit. That’s what we ought to be doing.”
After his remarks, Casey said he’s not surprised the race is getting closer.
“One benefit of a tightening race is that people are paying close attention to differences, and I think especially the difference on Medicare, the guaranteed benefit, is now in sharper focus, the difference on taxes,” said Casey. He was referring to his earlier mention of his support for the payroll tax cut, which he credited with allowing 160 million families to hold onto an additional $1,000. He said Smith opposes the tax cut.
While Smith’s attack ads have called Casey “Senator Zero,” Casey’s own TV ads have dubbed the Republican candidate “Tea Party Tom Smith.” In Hershey, Casey singled out the Tea Party as an impediment in 2012 to passing legislation, and said the upcoming election will reflect a choice about whether that will continue.
“Whether we’re going to elect or reelect people that try to find common ground, try to bring people together, and try to focus on priorities like jobs instead of bringing an ideological, extreme, and radical agenda -- not just to a campaign, but to the work they would do in Washington if elected or reelected,” he said.
Recent polls show Casey’s once double-digit lead over Smith in August and September has shrunk considerably. A Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll out last week showed Casey up by two points. This week, another survey by the same group showed the incumbent senator up by eight points.
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