WASHINGTON — National Republicans are spending $500,000 on the Pennsylvania Senate race as polls show a closer contest between Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and Republican Tom Smith, a wealthy tea party candidate who has invested more than $16 million into his bid.
An official with the National Republican Senatorial Committee said Friday that the organization was giving half a million dollars in initial coordinated funds to Smith, who can increase his ad buys especially in western Pennsylvania.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss election strategy in Senate races.
Pennsylvania had been considered a safe seat for the first-term Casey, but recent surveys show the Democrat’s double-digit advantage reduced to a few percentage points. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed Casey with 48 percent to Smith’s 45 percent.
Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Democratic polling and other surveys showed a larger lead for Casey.
“I’m comfortable with where the race is today, and I think Bob Casey is going to win,” Cecil said in an interview.
Pressed on whether national Democrats would spend money on the race, Cecil said, “Obviously we’re always assessing the race, so we’re not going to announce any plans or not announce any plans prematurely, but we’ll continue to monitor the race pretty closely.”
Casey is bidding for a second term against a Republican who didn’t have the backing of the state’s Republican governor but scored a surprise win in the primary. A political newcomer, Smith made a fortune in coal mining and has been on course to outspend Casey by 2-to-1 since July 1.
This week, the Majority PAC, a Democratic political action committee, began running TV ads in Pittsburgh to help Casey. The commercial criticizes Smith for his plans to eliminate the federal Education Department, arguing that it would mean less money in classrooms and less aid for college students.
The Smith campaign said he has not ruled out keeping some Education Department functions, such as Pell grants.
Casey, a moderate Democrat, is the son of a former governor, a veteran of several statewide races and popular with labor unions in a strong labor state. Although Republicans are investing in the race, strong Democratic turnout in Philadelphia, especially in a presidential election year, often dashes GOP hopes.