Smith, a multimillionaire who made his fortune in the coal industry, is an unlikely standard-bearer for the GOP. The state’s GOP governor, Tom Corbett, backed another candidate in the primary. Smith was a registered Democrat for decades and even an Armstrong-CountyDemocratic committeeman as recently as 2010. But local Democrats said that once he was on the committee, his views and rhetoric were far too conservative for their tastes. He was active in local tea parties, and he strikes a blue-collar, populist note when he expresses impatience with Washington. In his ads, Smith projects a pleasant, straightforward demeanor, managing to denounce “what Bob Casey and the political class have done to America” without sounding nasty. He dismisses “career politicians” anddescribes himself as “just a farm boy that got misplaced in the coal mines and started my own business.” Pennsylvania’s electorate is one of the oldest, and Smith is running folksy ads pledging to protect Social Security and Medicare, featuring his mother.
For many years, the Philadelphia suburbs represented the swing region of the state. Republicans are seeing a mixed bag here this cycle. They are increasingly optimistic about Bucks County, where about 435,000 are registered to vote. Toomey won this county over Joe Sestak in the 2010 Senate race, 53.2 percent to 46.8 percent. But the other major suburban counties, Montgomery County (with 553,104 registered voters) and Delaware County (about 395,000 registered voters) are looking like tougher nuts to crack for Republicans this cycle, compared with Bucks County.
“Turnout in November will be down markedly from four years ago, when 5.9 million cast ballots in the ‘hope and change’ election,” Lee says. “I’d put the number at 5 to 5.5 million tops. Lower turnout clearly benefits Republicans both up and down the ticket. Turnout in western Pennsylvania in particular will be higher than in the east, because the issue of the economy is at fever-pitch levels out there. Romney is likely to win big there.”