A national Tea Party group Friday kicked off a 20-city bus tour in Cranberry, where it endorsed Republican Tom Smith's U.S. Senate bid, skewered Democratic President Barack Obama and appealed for help in what it called a watershed election year.
About 200 people attended the rally at North Boundary Park organized by Tea Party Express, which describes itself as the conservative movement's largest political action committee.
Mr. Smith, an Armstrong County coal executive, defeated four other Republicans in Tuesday's primary and faces Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr., a one-term incumbent, in the fall. Speakers called the race key to the Tea Party's aim of giving Republicans control of the Senate and ending the leadership of current Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
"We're going to take that gavel out of his hands," said Amy Kremer, Tea Party Express chairwoman.
The group's "Restoring the American Dream" bus tour was to travel to Cleveland on Friday night, then stop in 18 other cities -- in Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas -- by May 5.
Additional endorsements are planned, but not during the bus tour, spokesman Taylor Budowich said.
The group's criticism Friday focused on Mr. Obama's health care plan and what speakers called out-of-control federal spending, including Wall Street bailouts and last year's increase in the debt ceiling.
Mr. Obama "wants our country to follow Europe into bankruptcy. He wants to demonize prosperity," said Patti Weaver, a local Tea Party leader.
The rally drew residents distressed about the nation's direction. One carried a colonial flag and another wore a tri-cornered hat -- symbols of republican values they said the country has lost.
David Hartman, an attorney and banker who traveled from Canfield, Ohio, said there's a simple solution to many of government's problems. "Term limits."
Mr. Smith is the sixth GOP Senate candidate endorsed by Tea Party Express so far. The others are Richard Mourdock, Indiana; Sarah Steelman, Missouri; Jon Bruning, Nebraska; Josh Mandel, Ohio; and Ted Cruz, Texas. All are challenging incumbents.
The Senate now consists of 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans and two independents who caucus with the Democrats.
This is a pivotal election, Ms. Kremer said, partly because of the need for a Republican-controlled Senate to help overturn Mr. Obama's health care plan.
"We can't bank on the Supreme Court overturning 'Obamacare.' We need to rip it out of the ground by the roots. Nothing else is acceptable," she said.
Speakers also criticized Mr. Obama for unemployment, his energy policy, high gas prices and other problems. They criticized Mr. Casey for supporting Mr. Obama's policies, including bailouts.
"He was Barack Obama's minion," Ms. Weaver said.
Mr. Smith won the GOP nomination even though he wasn't the party's endorsed candidate. He's a former Democrat but, he says, a lifelong fiscal conservative. That's good enough for Ms. Kremer.
"He's a regular person, like you and I," she said. "He's a job creator. ... He's been writing paychecks for 45 years."
Mark Nicaspre, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said Mr. Smith has embraced the Tea Party's "out-of-touch policies."
"It's in stark contrast to Sen. Casey, who works hard to reach across the aisle and get things done," he said.
Mr. Smith said he'd like to defeat Mr. Casey and give him the opportunity to "reacquire his Pennsylvania roots."
A former heavy equipment operator who gambled on starting his own company and achieved much success, Mr. Smith said he "lived the American dream. I see that dream for future generations in jeopardy."
Joe Smydo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1548.