Early move by Senate candidate

    Tom Smith, is a former farmer, former coal miner, and former coal company owner who is one of ten candidates vying for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate next year.

    He has some liabilities – he’s a political neophyte who was a Democrat not so many years ago. But he has assets, too – including lots of money and the political expertise they’ll buy.

    That expertise showed this week when Smith completed the classic early move by an unknown, self-financed candidate: Run ads before your rivals have the money or interest to do it, then hire a pollster to show you’re a frontrunner. You then try and leverage the manufactured lead to get more support and money. If things go really well, you’ve got the momentum of a freight train as the campaign season opens.

    Smith ran a biographical ad a couple of weeks ago, and today he released a poll by McLaughlin & Associates showing him leading the pack with 22 percent of the vote.

    A poll this early usually just captures name recognition, so a candidate who’s just popped his name in front of voters gets an edge. The survey shows former State Rep. Sam Rohrer, who ran for governor two yeas ago, running second with 15 percent.

    The survey will no doubt be critiqued by Smith’s rivals, and media generally don’t make news stories of campaign polls. But give Smith points for showing he aims to compete.

    The geezer campaign historian in me recalls the 1991 mayor’s race in Philadelphia, when little-known attorney Peter Hearn spent $460,000, a huge sum at the time, on TV ads in the December before the Democratic primary.

    An independent poll soon showed him with 16 percent of the vote, just eight points behind Ed Rendell. The effort made Hearn an early credible candidate, but he never caught up with Rendell, who was a formidable candidate with a gift for communication and fundraising.

    The field Tom Smith faces in the Republican Senatoral primary lacks that kind of dominating figure, so his December ad play may have more significance.

    But, it’s early. The Smith campaign did not release the entire McLaughlin survey, but you can read some of the findings in their press release here.

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