Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey tried to paint his Republican challenger Tom Smith as someone who would worsen partisanship in Congress, while Smith contended he knows better than Casey how to improve the economy, as the two candidates largely stuck to rehearsed scripts in their first and only debate Friday.
The hour-long debate broke little ground in their campaign discussion, and a panel of questioners from WPVI-TV in Philadelphia tried several times to ask questions that would produce more in-depth information.
Casey, a key ally of labor unions, positioned himself as someone willing to work for compromise between Republicans and Democrats on the big issues, a compromise he says would be stalled by ideologically-driven tea party adherents like Smith. Casey used last year's fight over raising the debt limit to avoid a default.
"You had the tea party forcing the country to go to the edge of the cliff and almost default on our obligations to pay off our bills," Casey said. "He can talk all he wants about how we pay our bills, but if we're going to allow tea party ideology to govern Washington, we're going to be in worse shape. If we default on our obligations, as he has proposed on this issue, it would ruin the economy and it would lead to job losses in the millions..."
Smith, a tea party favorite who made a fortune in coal mining and runs a family farm, used a question about whether he would push to break up the nation's big investment banks to tout himself as a self-funded "citizen candidate" who is not beholden to special interests and ran against the Republican Party in the primary and won.
"I am my own person, my own man and I will represent all Pennsylvanians," Smith responded. "We've got to get this economy roaring, we've got to get that deficit spending under control, and I've got the plans and the background to do that. That is what I have done for 44 years. I started running businesses when my father passed away when I was 19 and I've been doing it ever since."
The candidates were even-tempered and rarely interrupted each other. In one of those rare moments, Casey interrupted Smith with "that's not true." Smith responded: "That is true" and continued his remarks.
WPVI-TV will air the debate Sunday.
Casey, 52, is running for a second, six-year term after supporting President Barack Obama's signature policies. He is the son of the late former Gov. Robert P. Casey and a former state treasurer and auditor general.
Smith, 65, is a political newcomer. He lives on the Armstrong County farm where he grew up.