SCRANTON -- Bob Casey handily won what was expected to be a tight race for his U.S. Senate seat.
Mr. Casey defeated challenger Tom Smith, a conservative Armstrong County farmer who waged an aggressive self-funded campaign.
Polls had narrowed through early fall as Mr. Smith brought his campaign to televisions, radios and computer screens statewide. The effort was no match for the Democratic faithful came out to ensure a second term for Mr. Casey, a mild-mannered Scranton Democrat who previously served as state treasurer and auditor general.
The win was great news to the enthusiastic crowd of northeast Pennsylvanians who filled a ballroom at the Hilton Hotel & Convention Center for the senator's victory party.
At one table, a half dozen longtime Scranton residents said they've known Mr. Casey all his life and that he's done a lot for the region's parochial interests. Several mentioned his role in staving off the planned closure of Tobyhannah Army Depot.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Casey said he wasn't troubled by the closeness of the race -- far different from his 17-point win over incumbent Rick Santorum six years ago. He said he knew that it would be a competitive race if Mr. Smith invested heavily in it financially.
Including nearly $17 million his own money, Mr. Smith spent about $20 million on the race, twice as much as Mr. Casey, whose campaign was heavily funded by lawyers and lobbyists.
Spring polls had Mr. Casey leading by as much as 19 points but that gap closed as Republicans took to the airways with a steady stream of attack ads while Democrats stayed quiet but for one commercial that hammered on Mr. Smith's conservative tea party roots.
"This race is a lesson to all politicians that you never rest on your laurels and that almost no lead is safe, especially in a state like Pennsylvania," said Michael Federici, professor of political science at Mercyhurst University in Erie. "If you're too relaxed about it you send a message to supporters that you've got it in the bag and they don't work as hard."
The seat seemed to be slipping away from Casey five weeks ago after President Barack Obama's poor performance in the cycle's first presidential debate. That debate galvanized Republican voters even when it came to down-ticket races but not enough to unseat Mr. Casey.
Jim Burn, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said he never worried that Mr. Casey would lose.
"The only people who thought Tom Smith was going to win were Tom Smith and the Republican Party," he said. "The more people learned about Tom Smith the more they realized he doesn't represent their interests."
First Published November 7, 2012 2:30 AM