SCRANTON, Pa. -- Bob Casey handily won what was expected to be a tight race Tuesday to keep his U.S. Senate seat out of the hands of Republican 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 who came out to ensure a second term for Mr. Casey, a mild-mannered Scranton Democrat who previously served as state treasurer and auditor general.
"To be re-elected is a great honor to me," Mr. Casey, surrounded by his family, told about 300 supporters in the Hilton Hotel & Convention Center ballroom.
"I'm grateful for the vote of confidence that the people of Pennsylvania have given me."
There's a lot of work left to do, he said. "We're still in a recovery. Jobs are being created at a faster rate but not fast enough. ... So many people in our state are still living lives of struggle and sacrifice."
He said the parties have to work together to create jobs, move the economy forward, fiscal on fiscal challenges and strengthen the national economy.
The win was great news to the enthusiastic crowd of northeast Pennsylvanians who filled a ballroom at the 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 Tobyhanna Army Depot.
"He's our guardian angel," said Jane Roberts, 68. "I was raised as a Republican and I'm registered Republican but I vote for Bobby because I vote for the man, not the party."
Her friend, Nan Gaus, 63, said Mr. Casey is a lot like his father, the popular former governor with the same name. Both did a lot for Scranton, and another term in the Senate for Mr. Casey can only mean good things for the region, she and her tablemates agreed as they ate hand-butlered hors d'oeuvres and waited for Mr. Casey to arrive from his nearby home, where he watched the results with his family.
Meanwhile, at the Sheraton Station Square on the South Side, Mr. Smith was upstairs with members of his family when the news services began calling the race shortly after the polls closed.
He later came and spoke to the crowd.
"Who would have thought that an old farm boy from Armstrong County who got his place in a coal mine would be standing here with all you good people tonight? Wow! What a ride!" Mr. Smith said.
Mr. Smith thanked family, friends and supporters and said he had congratulated Mr. Casey on his victory moments before entering the room.
"While Senator Casey and I disagree on many things, we both share a love for this country and this state," he said. "And we both believe America's best days are ahead of her."
But Mr. Smith said the results do not mean he and his supporters were wrong. "While we came up a little bit short tonight, the task in front of us remains the same," he said. "We must repeal Obamacare, we must stop deficit spending. We must stop the war on Pennsylvania coal and, most importantly, we must get this economy roaring again. I will not stop until this is done."
Sounding very much like a man who refused to quit, Mr. Smith said, "Tomorrow, we redouble our efforts to take back this country. ... I am ready to continue the fight, day in and day out until this work is done. But only if you will fight, too."
Earlier, state Sen. Don White, a Republican from Indiana County in the 41st District, was on hand to rally supporters.
"Tom Smith is an American story," Mr. White said of the man whose roots are in farming and the coal mining business. "I'm pretty proud of him. He didn't have to do this. He could have sat on his porch and clipped coupons. But he's passionate about his country and cares about the direction its going. He cares about what we leave our children and grandchildren.
"I've known him for about 20 years, and we talked about this in December. I urged him not to do this. He didn't have the [network] and didn't have a political bone in his body. But he put together a pretty good campaign in a short time.
"He's part of an American breed that's disappearing."
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 first presidential debate. That debate galvanized Republican voters even when it came to down-ticket races but not enough to unseat Mr. Casey.
"One thing I know is that Casey is never going to take another election lightly. This is a real wake-up call for him. His political future would have looked really gloomy if he couldn't hold a 20-point lead against an unknown challenger who was a bit of a bumbler" in the only Senate debate, Mr. Federici said.
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."
He said the party worked hard and didn't take the race for granted as political scientists and others suggested.
"We have worked hard here in Pennsylvania" for all Democratic candidates this cycle. He said the results verify that people appreciate the difficult decisions the president and Sen. Casey have made to move the country out of a recession.
"People are going back to work and people believe again. People know we are moving away from the bad and coming back to the good," he said.
The race came into the national spotlight as Mr. Smith, who had been considered a long shot, self-funded a widespread television, radio and Internet campaign that raised his visibility and put him within striking distance as a time at a time when control of the Senate hinged on four seats.
Three gaffes on the subject of abortion tipped the scales in Democrats favor in three races, including the Pennsylvania contest. First, Missouri Republican Todd Akin said women's bodies protect them from pregnancy from "legitimate rape." In Pennsylvania, Mr. Smith conflated pregnancy from rape with pregnancy out of wedlock. And in Indiana, Richard Mourdock said that pregnancy by rape is a "gift from God."
All three lost their Senate bids Tuesday night.
Mr. Smith, 64, of Armstrong County, later said he regretted his remark and declined to answer any other questions about abortion except to say that he is "pro-life, period."
Mr. Casey, 52, of Scranton, also is pro-life except in the cases of rape or incest. That's a rare position among Democrats, and it was where the similarities between him and Mr. Smith ended, with both toeing party lines on issues of taxation, health care reform and foreign policy.
Mr. Casey said, win or lose, he is eager to return to Washington to work on legislation that would end the fiscal cliff and on another bill that would provide tax incentives for business owners who increase payroll expenditures either by hiking salaries or hiring more workers.
In Congress, he has supported extensions of payroll tax breaks, advocated for taking a hard line on Chinese currency manipulation, led the effort to provide pay parity for women and voted for the Affordable Care Act. He is chairman of the Joint Economic Committee and a Foreign Relations subcommittee chairman.
Mr. Burn said Pennsylvanians can look forward to seeing a "continuing evolution of leadership" in Mr. Casey's second term. "We've seen some great things from the senator in his first six years -- opportunities for middle-class Pennsylvanians. He will build on that great first term and do greater things for us in an exponential fashion."
Mr. Casey lives in Scranton with his wife, Therese, and four daughters.
Mr. Smith and his wife, Saundy, live in Shelocta. They have seven grown children and nine grandchildren. Mr. Smith farms the land he grew up on and made his fortune operating coal mines, car washes and a trucking company.