Boring and Bumbling, Casey and Smith Debate in Philly

Smith, left, and Casey

Philadelphia — When Pennsylvania voters make their choice in 10 days, they won’t see a great orator on the ballot for U.S. Senate. But Democratic Sen. Bob Casey’s informed yet boring and bland performance stood above Republican Tom Smith’s passionate fumbling and nonspecificity.

As polls continued to show a close race, both men stood before the moderator, ABC’s Jim Gardner, and made their case for a term in Washington. The debate was hosted by WPVI and the League of Women Voters.

“Medicare is a promise to the folks who fought our wars, worked in our factories, built the middle class, and built this country,” Casey said in his introduction. “There’s a vast difference between the two of us on that issue.”

“My opponent Tom Smith thinks that we should take away that guaranteed benefit of Medicare and change it either by giving someone a voucher or changing it even more radically.”

“I’m just an old farm boy who got misplaced in the coal mines and wound up in business. But I grew up in an America where a farm boy who knew how to work could follow his dreams and achieve success,” Smith said. On his grandkids and the children in his community, “I worry about their America. The America which you and I will soon turn over to them.”

Smith has never faced a debate audience as large or as important as the one who will watch the broadcast in this race, and it showed.

He mistook the moderator’s name – twice – calling him “Larry.”

“I’m Jim,” Gardner responded.

Smith appeared on Philly host Larry Kane’s “Voice of Reason” earlier in the week.

On numerous issues – including budget cuts, affirmative action, banking regulations and more, Smith started out with an on-message answer about a broad topic. But when the moderator pushed for more details, he came up short.

For example, when asked to name a specific part of the budget he would look to cut, Smith said, “I always start where the biggest problem is, and it’s in all the departments.”

On other issues, like Iran’s nuclear program and gun control, he said he agreed with Casey.

That was a sound tactical decision when the topic was abortion. Both candidates we asked about comments by Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who said during a debate that pregnancies resulting from rape are a gift from God.

Casey and Smith both said they rejected Mourdock’s remarks.

“I don’t agree with what that candidate said. It was an outrageous statement,” Casey said. He added that he’s a pro-life Democrat and emphasized his support for contraception.

Smith, who stumbled in major fashion on a question about abortion in August, took a much more cautious approach.

“No, not at all. And I am pro-life,” Smith said, and tried to pivot back the economy. The moderator brought him back to abortion. “He shoulda never said anything like that and I don’t agree with it. So let’s be perfectly clear, since there seems to be some misunderstanding here. I am pro-life. Period.”

“But what I find…” he started to say, before presumably remembering the hours of his campaign prep team coaching him to avoid the topic. “And, that’s it.”

He had strong moments, too, not just by avoiding unforced errors but particularly when he went after Casey.

“You have brought up that I endorse the Ryan plan and I endorse these plans. No, I said they were plans,” Smith said. “At least the had the forward thinking and the courage to bring out various plans, which few people in your party – and I don’t think you ever have either – on how we get Social Security secured, how we get Medicare secured.”

Casey, on the other hand, debated cautiously; he consistently offered wonkish responses to questions. The closest he came to passion was when he decried the partisanship of Washington, a problem which he said Smith would exacerbate.

“I would hope that my opponent, if he were to be elected to the U.S. Senate, would say to the Tea Party, we need to invest in the future, we need to create jobs, we need to move the economy forward,” Casey said on the topic of transportation funding.

He repeatedly hammered Smith for the Republican’s kind words – mostly during the primary – about controversial budget plans that would alter entitlement programs and shift the tax burden to the middle class.

“The budget proposal that Vice Presidential candidate Ryan set forth… In there you see tax implications for the whole country. When the Washington Post analyzed the tax proposals in the Ryan budget, they said middle class taxes would go up,” Casey said.

“So if you want a middle class tax increase, I think Tom Smith is your candidate.”

But the subdued style for which Casey is known hampered his efforts to paint Smith as a Tea Party extremist. He seemed content to keep the debate on dry policy topics and missed many opportunities to challenge Smith directly or throw the Republican off balance.

When his voice might have raised to a crescendo, for example about Medicare, it remained a low monotone.

The one time Casey did challenge Smith – to dispute his assertion that the Senate hasn’t passed a budget – Smith was noticeably affected.

Ultimately, Casey came out ahead. He appeared more senatorial and demonstrated a better grasp on the issues. Smith spoke with the voice of the common man, angry at Washington’s ineffectiveness – passionate at times, but he struggled to go beyond the basic slogans and ideas from his television ads.

But neither man really stood out, and Smith probably covered the spread.

Luckily for both, the viewing audience for the debate is likely to be quite low. It’s scheduled to air at 1pm on Sunday on WPVI, the same time as kickoff for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers games.

Other stations are free to rebroadcast after the initial airing.

October 26th, 2012 | Posted in Front Page Stories, Senate, Top Stories | 9 Comments

9 thoughts on “Boring and Bumbling, Casey and Smith Debate in Philly”

  1. Isaac L. says:

    All politics aside, I’ve seen Tom Smith speak on a number of occasions and he’s very hard to follow – he’ll start three different thoughts in the same sentence, which makes for near incoherence at times. He seems like a very nice man, but I don’t really understand how he’ll be able to be an effective voice for Pennsylvanians if elected.

    And Marcia – the lead agitator in the war on coal isn’t government regulation, it’s natural gas and fracking. Natural gas is much, much cleaner and far more efficient than coal and it’s getting cheaper and cheaper the more we drill in the Marcellus Shale. Coal plants pump more radiation in the air than nuclear power plants and pollute the air for miles and miles around them, causing recorded deaths and increasing lung disorders in the surrounding areas (why else is it that the rates of asthma, etc. are so much higher the closer the individuals live to a coal fired power plant?). If EPA regulations were so stringent, then we wouldn’t be having those problems. They’ve been far too lenient and as a result, coal companies haven’t bothered to update to the latest technologies that prevent these nasty health problems for the community, and ultimately, the taxpayers. And to say that they’re going after natural gas is a bit ridiculous – the democrats I know in environmental regulation are all enthusiastic about natural gas because it’s cleaner and abundant, but they want to make sure there are adequate, scientifically-based regulations like proper setbacks and steps to ensure the integrity of the wells.

  2. Joe says:

    It’s certainly easy to understand why Tom Smith would be opposed to Clean Air regulations, making millions from coal mining. But what does he have to offer beyond that? Bob Casey is one of the most knowledgeable Senators on the volatile Middle East, considered to be an expert. Do we want to trade him for someone who has nothing to say other than echoing the national party line? Mr. Smith might be knowledgeable about his successful businesses, but he doesn’t demonstrate anything beyond that.

  3. John says:

    Democrats criticizing Smith for being successful? Why is being successful such a crime in their book? Casey is also very rich, which they refuse to mention, but Casey has never been successful and never earned anything he has accomplished in life. His father’s name has given him everything, including a senate seat. Pathetic. If his name were Bill Casey he’d be living in a trailer park and eating canned tuna right now.

  4. Marcia says:

    Bobby Casey strokes Obama at all costs. Obama and Lisa Jackson @ the EPA are killing coal and have natural gas in their crosshairs. They have done great damage to coal generating stations. A case in point is the Homer City Generating Station that had invested hundreds of millions in advanced clean coal scrubber technology, but the EPA under Obama arrogantly slammed them with massive monetary penalties. Look at the Cove Point Natural Gas Facility in Maryland – Obama and the EPA maliciously refuses to issue a permit for operation of the facility. And the beat goes on. The Marcellus industry has been able to stiff arm Obama enough due to its evolving technology and the fact that a great deal of its permitting is issued thru the Commonwealth. But make no mistake, Obama is all about power and control, and a 2nd term will embolden him to crush the gas industry. Tens of thousands of workers in the coal and gas industries in PA, Ohio, and WV know they are the sacrificial lambs for his Leftist ideology and his big-money Sierra Club donors. My family is voting for Tom Smith.

  5. tommy says:

    Smith is a fraud, attempting to identify himself as an average person (who just so happens to have $17 million to toss into a Senate campaign) and a union guy (huh?).

    Smith was a UMWA member for 3 1/2 years, then became a mine operator and owner. He ruled his mines with fear and intimidation and kept his employees from being organized.

  6. Arlen says:

    Cheap natural gas is going to kill the coal industry, not EPA standards. You can create all the conspiracies you want about Casey, Obama, the Democrats and their funding base, but let me ask, what are the names of the billionaires supporting the Tea Party and Tom Smith? Is it K-O-C-H ?

  7. Mary says:

    Nationalreview.com has Casing Casey today.
    He wouldn’t even vote to block the EPA regulations gunning for the State’s coal industry.

  8. Casey knowingly contradicted his pro-life posture when he voted for ObamaCare.

  9. sue says:

    Casey supports contraception? He voted for the Blunt Amendment!
    His numbers stink because lots of Democratic women are fed up with him

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