Casey tells donors of 'real concerns' on re-elect

Democrat Bob Casey of Pennsylvania has been rated among the safest Senate incumbents in the nation this year, with a time-tested political brand name, about $6 million in the bank and a little- known Republican opponent.

Casey, however, expressed “real concern” about the threat posed by former coal executive Tom Smith in a recent fundraising letter sent to prospective contributors. The letter was first reported Friday by the web site PoliticsPA.

After noting that most public, independent polls give him a lead of from 7 to 20 percentage points, Casey writes that “the not so good news is that all the polls have me at less than 50%.” That, he notes, “is a real warning sign for incumbent candidates.” Most voters know little about Smith at this point, Casey says.

Of course, it’s a common fundraising tactic is to raise an alarm in solicitations – how will you convince people to give to you if they’re under the impression you don’t really need it? But Democrats do have a nagging worry: that their side will be lulled into a false sense of security, focusing on Senate races that are rated as more competitive, and the wealthy Smith will dump a pile of his own money on the race at the end.

Smith spent about $5 million of his own money to win the GOP primary in April, besting five candidates, including the one with the official party endorsement, on the strength of a wave of TV ads.

Though he is raising money the traditional way, and believes he will have enough, Smith has not ruled out contributing to his campaign from personal funds if needed. “That well of money is not near dry yet,” Smith told the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call in a story published Thursday.

He has an estimated net worth of $60-$70 million. Smith received a 60-day extension from the Senate Ethics Committee to file the financial disclosure form required of senators and candidates, which was due May 15.

Smith, of Armstrong County, has significant support from tea party activists. His campaign believes that Casey’s close association with President Obama will prove a liability, particularly in the coal-producing areas of western Pennsylvania, where many Democratic voters have turned away from the president, partly because of environmental policies some consider hostile to coal and gas interests.

Smith, for instance, blasted Casey for voting Wednesday against a Republican bill to block the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing mercury and air-toxics standards for coal-fired power plants.

“As the owner of several coal mining companies, I was on the receiving end of President Obama and Senator Casey's costly, job-killing regulations,” he said. “I saw firsthand the damage that an out-of-control government can do to an American economy struggling to create jobs. The President's EPA has clearly declared a war on coal - an industry crucial to our economy.”

Casey said that he wants to ease regulations where possible but said the regulations, particularly on mercury, which can cause neurological damage in children, were necessary to protect public health.

In general, Casey has tried to steer a middle course on coal issues. Last year, he voted delay the EPA from implementing limits on greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants for two years but did not support efforts to limit the agency’s authority over the emissions.