By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor
Republican party officials have yet to coalesce around a challenger to Senator Bob Casey, but Pennsylvania’s Tea Party activists aren’t going to wait.
A new name has surfaced in the hunt for the GOP nomination: Tom Smith, Chairman of the Indiana-Armstrong Patriots. The coal industry veteran said he will formally announce his candidacy after Labor Day, and says that he will provide enough seed money to make a serious run.
Smith, 63, lives in Shelocta in Armstrong County. He’s married and has six daughters, one son, and eight grandchildren. He says that’s why he decided to run.
“Talking to you right now, I have pictures of the kids and the grandkids,” Smith said in an interview with PoliticsPA. “And where this country I believe is headed is not where I want them to land – future generations and everybody. That is why I’m running.”
Smith is currently finalizing a contract with a campaign consultant to oversee his race. He already has office space, and a strong volunteer base among Indiana-Armstrong Patriots.
Smith isn’t the first member of the conservative movement to express an interest in the race. But he has a financial advantage over some other Senate hopefuls who, if not directly affiliated, are ideologically in sync with the Tea Party.
“I have some money,” he said, “and I’m willing to put that in there to get it started and off the ground, and see if we can get traction and see if people come to the cause.”
A 40-year employee and businessman in the coal industry, Smith owned a mid-sized mining operation for 23 years. By its height last year when it was sold to the Rosebud Mining Company, it employed about 150 people and produced 100,000 tons of coal per month.
The current regulatory environment is what led him to leave the business.
“With the regulatory situation we have today in this country, the sad thing is I wouldn’t be able to do that again,” Smith said. “In other words, if I were starting those companies today in that business, there’s no way I could get it started.”
He criticized Casey for contributing to that environment, as well as for supporting the majority of President Obama’s agenda.
“If you look at his voting record, he voted for things that I oppose very adamantly. Did he not vote for Obamacare – the health care bill? He is more of a solid vote for the liberal establishment. Right now, that’s the Obama administration.”
Harrisburg-area attorney Marc Scaringi has heavily courted Tea Party groups and recently welcomed to his team Randall DeSoto, who worked for insurgent Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller last year. However, as of the most recent campaign finance report, he had raised about $52,000 since his campaign began and had about $6,000 on hand.
Laureen Cummings, the founder of the Scranton Tea Party, has expressed an interest in the race. Cummings has yet to file any paperwork, but as a working nurse she is unlikely to make a significant financial contribution to her campaign.
Republican officials are reportedly courting several independently wealthy businessmen to consider a run at Casey, including former PA-12 contender Tim Burns, former PA-6 contender Steve Welch, and GOP donor Keith Loiselle.
Casey currently has over $3.1 million cash on hand and is considering among the safer Democratic incumbents facing re-election next year, and a number of high-profile elected officials have taken a pass on the race. Pennsylvania was designated as “Likely Democratic” in the most recent Cook Political Report rating, the second-best category for Democrats. Our state has also has steadily lost ground in Politico’s monthly ratings of top ten Senate races, and wasn’t even listed in July.
Other points of interest during the interview:
Smith cited Senator Pat Toomey as the currently-serving elected official with whom he best identifies. He named former British PM Winston Churchill as the historical figure he most admires (a real shock for this reporter, interviewing a Tea Party leader!). His campaign theme, he said, will be “Not on our watch.”