Wealthy tea party Republican announces challenge to Casey

A former coal mine owner and tea party Republican from western Pennsylvania intends to challenge Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey next year.

Tom Smith joins a pack of about a half-dozen Republicans who say they’ll compete for the chance to challenge Casey in 2012.

Like his rivals, Smith is largely unknown, but he has personal wealth to invest in the campaign after selling his coal-mining operations last year. He opened his campaign with familiar Republican themes.

“Simply put, we must change course,” Smith said. “We can no longer afford to follow the Obama and Casey path of higher taxes, more spending and countless jobs lost.”

Smith appeared at the Doubletree Hotel in Center City Philadelphia as part of a two-day swing through the state to introduce himself to the media and voters.

Though he made most of his fortune in mining, Smith said he was a farmer before that and still works the 400-acre farm where he grew up. He said he still owns a trucking company, some real estate and two car washes.

The Senate campaign is Smith’s first run for office since he served a term as commissioner in Plum Creek Township decades ago.

Smith chaired the Indiana-Armstrong Patriots, a tea party group in two western Pennsylvania counties. He says the group worked well with Republican elected officials, and he’d like to broker “kind of a marriage between the tea party and the Republican hierarchy.”

Smith, who said he favors a balanced budget amendment, described himself as being anti-abortion but said regulation of abortion should be left to the states.

Casey spokeswoman Mellody April said the senator would make his case to voters when the time comes. For now, she said, he’s “focused on the challenges facing Pennsylvania by fighting for common-sense measures to create jobs and appropriate disaster funding to help people rebuild their lives.”

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