The cordial, hour-long debate broke little ground from the candidates' stump speeches, and a panel of questioners from WPVI-TV in Philadelphia tried several times to repeat questions in an effort to get the candidates to give direct answers.
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. As an example, Casey cited 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."
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.
Asked whether they would eliminate aid for school lunches or federal food safety inspectors, Casey said no. Smith said all government spending should be looked at in deciding any cutbacks.
On the U.S. Supreme Court review of race and college admissions, Casey said he hoped the court would not limit efforts to "right ongoing wrongs." Smith said people should be judged by character, not by skin color.
Asked about wage disparities between men and women, Smith said he believes in equal pay for equal work. Casey noted his support for a bill that Republicans are blocking that would require employers to prove that differences in pay are not gender-related. He also noted he voted for the 2009 "Lilly Ledbetter" law that expands the ability of a worker to sue over pay inequity, a law Smith has said he would have opposed.
In response to a question on Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's statement that a pregnancy resulting from rape is "something God intended," Casey called it "outrageous." Smith said he also doesn't agree with the statement but added that he is "pro-life, period."
WPVI-TV will air the debate Sunday.