The Republican Party's U.S. Senate nominee in Pennsylvania has retracted his praise for a Tea Party member who compared President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, saying he didn't pay attention to the speaker's remarks before praising him.
Tom Smith, a retired coal mine owner who is challenging Sen. Bob Casey (D), told HuffPost in a statement that he had not been listening closely to the speech in which Tea Party member Phil Waite compared Obama's policies to those of Hitler and the Nazi Party and warned that Obama might follow in Hitler's fascist footsteps. Smith had started his own remarks at the Blair County Tea Party FreedomFest 2012 by saying that Waite had spoken "eloquently."
"On Sunday July 1st, I was a speaker at the Blair County ‘Freedom Festival.’ In the opening of my remarks, as a courtesy, I acknowledged the previous speaker," Smith said in his statement. "I regret that I did not pay as close attention to the individual’s remarks as I should have. Having since had these remarks brought to my attention, I regret and withdraw my acknowledgement. The rhetoric was both divisive and beyond the bounds of acceptable discourse."
Smith added that he does not agree with the comparison of Obama and Hitler.
"I apologize to anyone who interpreted my acknowledgement as an endorsement of rhetoric that was inexcusable and offensive," he said. "While I disagree with the President on matters of policy, I believe him to be a man of character.”
Smith has been backed by the Tea Party Express and FreedomWorks, as well as Tea Party groups throughout Pennsylvania, in his bid to unseat Casey, a one-term incumbent. Previously he had to dial back on comments he made during the Republican primary when he said he wanted to "hang" Casey; Smith's spokesman said the candidate misspoke.
Waite, a history teacher at Central High School in Martinsburg, Pa., is not a board member of the Blair County Tea Party but has been a frequent speaker at Tea Party events. During his speech, he said that he wants to battle "Marxist, socialist law professors" who he said want to "annihilate" the country. He then launched into his diatribe about Hitler.
"All other parties were outlawed, all free elections were outlawed. Forty-five million dead people later, we ended that regime," Waite said. "Why? Because you had a slick, quick talker and someone who said, 'You don't need to worry about responsibility. We'll take good care of you. Just walk the party line and smile.' And you know how that ended up."
When the video of both sets of remarks surfaced, Smith and Waite were quickly condemned by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.
"The speaker's comments were shocking, but it's not surprising that ... Tom Smith applauded the extremism of his fellow Tea Partier," Democratic Party spokesman Mark Nicastre said Monday. "After all, Smith is a self-proclaimed 'Tea Party guy,' who founded his own local Tea Party. Throughout his campaign, Smith has embraced all of the extreme policies and extreme rhetoric of the Tea Party, and this is just the latest example of how out-of-touch Tom Smith is with middle-class Pennsylvanians."