Tom Smith didn’t go to college and has little political experience, but Republicans in Pennsylvania are counting on this “old farm boy” to give the incumbent Democratic senator from a well-known political family a run for his money in November.
“You can sum my life up in one sentence,” Smith recently told The Daily Caller. “I’m just an old farm boy that got in this place in the coal mines and wound up in business and did pretty well at it and now I’m running for the United States Senate.”
Relying on millions from his own bank account, Smith won the Republican primary in April even though the GOP establishment backed one of his opponents. He is taking on Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr., the son of the former Pennsylvania governor.
Hardly surprising, Smith compares himself to Ron Johnson, the freshman Wisconsin senator, who was a businessman — and not a politician — before running for the U.S. Senate.
“Ron Johnson from Wisconsin would be someone who I would model,” Smith said in an interview. “There are parallels there. Businessman. Fed up. Children. Worried. So he did some self-financing and got himself elected.”
Asked to recite his strongest argument against Casey, Smith told TheDC: “Sen. Bob Casey has a famous political name here in Pennsylvania. His father was a well-liked governor. Sen. Bob Casey is not his father, and I will point out his voting record.”
“He voted for Obamacare,” Smith explained, “he voted for the stimulus, he voted for the bailouts, cash for clunkers.”
Asked to describe priority legislation, Smith said: “We’ve got to get business friendly again. These small businesses are hurting.”
“I’m a conservative,” he said. “I think the economy needs grown and I don’t think the people we have in place right now — particularly Sen. Bob Casey, he’s never run a business — have the first idea what business people go through.”
Contrasting himself to Casey, Smith plays up his humble beginnings. “I still live on the same 400-acre farm that I was raised on as a kid.”
After his father passed away while Smith was in his early twenties, he took over the farm and therefore didn’t go to college. “I went to the University of Hard Knocks,” the 64-year-old said with a laugh.
Smith, who has six daughters and one son, went on to start his own coal mining company in the mid 1980s in western Pennsylvania. “It was a little hard to get started up and growing, but we got that accomplished and over the next 20 some years we grew that one company into several, and in the end of 2010 our companies were producing close to 100,000 tons of coal a month,” he said.
While he’s often described as a political newcomer, Smith has some political experience at the local level. “In the 70s I ran one time as Plum Creek Township supervisor here in Armstrong County.”
He won that seat and served one term. “I finished out a term. … After that I had these businesses that I was wanting to build and other people stepped up.”
As for the U.S. Senate race, Smith is considered an underdog, but predicted Casey’s poll numbers will go down “once we get his record out there.” (FLASHBACK: Casey to Santorum: I did you a favor by beating you)
The Republican wouldn’t reveal how much he plans to self-fund his campaign, but said: “I want to raise as much as possible. Fundraising is going very well, and we won’t put in any more than we have to. But we will be funded.”
“We have a little bit of history with us too,” he said. “There has not been a Democratic United States Senator re-elected in Pennsylvania in over 50 years.”
Smith says he hasn’t wanted to run for the Senate for very long, and admits he still is wrapping his head around the fact that he’ll be on the ballot this fall.
“If you had told me 11 months ago that I would be talking to you as the Republican candidate for the United States Senate in Pennsylvania,” Smith said, “I would’ve said, ‘No, I’m not.’”