Smith wins Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary

NEW YORK Wed Apr 25, 2012 12:21am EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Pennsylvania Republican and political newcomer Tom Smith on Tuesday beat out four Republican rivals, including the candidate endorsed by the state party, for the chance to run against U.S. Senator Robert Casey, a Democrat, in the state in November.

In Pennsylvania's Republican presidential primary, voters lined up behind former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the assumed front-runner since former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum suspended his campaign earlier this month.

But while the presidential primary did not provide much suspense, several statewide races were competitive.

In one closely watched race, Representative Mark Critz declared victory over fellow Democratic incumbent Jason Altmire in a contest to represent the state's newly combined congressional seat.

Pennsylvania is due to lose one congressional seat as a result of the once-per-decade redistricting process, and the Republican-controlled state legislature combined the seats represented by the two Democrats, creating a new 12th District.

While Altmire was initially favored to win because his former constituents formed a majority of the new district, Critz won important union endorsements and the backing of former President Bill Clinton.

In the Senate race, Smith's victory over Steve Welch, who won the endorsement of the state Republican party and the support of Governor Tom Corbett, was a blow to the state's Republican leadership.

In a televised victory speech, Smith, a former coal-mine worker who went on to own a coal company, described himself as a candidate who will support job creation, domestic energy exploration and gun rights, while opposing President Barack Obama's healthcare package and remaining staunchly pro-life.

"Our country is in danger," Smith said. It's headed in the wrong direction. And Senator Bob Casey is a big part of the problem."

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn described Smith as "far outside the mainstream."

He said Casey, who was swept into office in an 18-point landslide six years ago, temporarily derailing the political career of then-Senator Santorum, was in a strong position to win re-election.

(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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