(AP) A Democratic political action committee began running TV ads in Pittsburgh on Wednesday to boost Democratic Sen. Bob Casey's reelection bid against a surprisingly strong challenge from Republican Tom Smith, a tea party favorite who has personally invested more than $16 million into the race.
The Majority PAC ad said Smith's cost-cutting agenda to eliminate the federal Department of Education would mean less money in classrooms, fewer children in Head Start and less aid for college students.
Smith's campaign responded that he would help schools by fighting to reduce the cost of the federal government and unfunded mandates, and that he has not ruled out keeping some Department of Education functions, such as Pell grants.
Casey is endorsed by the state's major newspapers in his quest for a second, six-year term. Smith is a political newcomer who made a fortune in coal mining and is tapping it to outspend Casey. Smith was on course to outspend Casey by two-to-one after July 1.
The race had long been on the backburner for the national parties in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate. Casey is a political scion, a veteran of several statewide races and popular with labor unions in a strong labor state. He had held a huge lead in early polling, but Smith burst from obscurity after blanketing the airwaves with ads.
A Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed Casey with 48 percent, versus Smith's 45 percent.