Buoyed by new poll numbers, Republicans are ramping up their efforts to capture the Massachusetts House seat vacated by Democratic Rep. Bill Delahunt.
The race between state Rep. Jeff Perry (R) and Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating (D) represents a majority maker race for Republicans -- one where, if they win, it could indicate the beginning of a Republican landslide on Election Night.
According to an internal Republican campaign poll conducted October 17 to 18 obtained by Hotline On Call, Perry is now leading 42 percent to 36 percent. As always, internal campaign polls should be taken with the appropriate context - but the fact that both parties are spending valuable resources here indicates it's a close race.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is also shifting messaging in the race for the final days of the campaign, choosing to focus on local report from 2005 that found that Keating's District Attorney office cut several plea bargains in rape cases -- a claim that Democrats immediately criticized.
But Republicans aren't going to drop the issue. "We plan to make sure voters are aware of Bill Keating's disturbing record of copping pleas with campaign contributors and letting violent rapists off the hook, and that includes using this on TV in an ad," said a GOP strategist familiar with NRCC ad making.
Keating's campaign immediately responded, saying that the NRCC is trying to distract from another explosive story on Wednesday: A woman who was illegally stripped search by a police unit under Perry's command in 1991 broke her silence, and said that Perry could have stopped the assault.
"This is nothing but a desperate and shameless ploy by Jeff Perry's Washington friends," Keating spokesman Steve Crawford said. "When you are a DA you understand that you are there to protect the public and protect survivors and you do that by seeking and getting the strongest conviction possible. Bill Keating's record of protecting survivors and putting away predators stands on its own."
Democrats are also pointing two an independent public poll released earlier this week that found Keating leading Perry by a 46 percent to 43 percent margin.
Despite Wednesday's story, Republicans clearly sense an opportunity. For one, Democrats have been hitting Perry over the 1991 sexual assault story for months now in hopes of disqualifying him from the race, but it doesn't seem to have made a significant dent in this poll numbers.
The NRCC has ramped up its media buys in the district. Last week, it purchased $275,000 on air time, significantly more than it has spent previously. In total, it has spent $421,000 on the race so far.
Democrats have also targeted the seat as an important one to defend. They have actually outspent Republicans here -- a sign that the seat is on both parties list of top priorities. The Democratic congressional Campaign Committee has spent $484,000 on the race so far.
Massachusetts is also the home to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who is facing a tougher-than-expected fight from Republican Sean Bielat in his solidly-Democratic seat. Currently there are not any Republicans in the 10-seat Massachusetts delegation in the House.