As Election Day gets closer, Democratic Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania now has a race on his hands.
Casey’s Republican challenger, Tom Smith, once considered a long shot, has moved within 3 percentage points of the Keystone State’s senior senator, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll, released on Tuesday.
Thanks to an aggressive media campaign, Smith has chipped away at Casey’s lead. For instance, in last month’s Quinnipiac survey, Casey led Smith 49 percent to 43 percent, after having an 18-point lead back in July.
For a candidate who started out with near-zero name recognition, Smith’s campaign touts internal polling that has the senator up by only 2 points, and a Muhlenberg College/Allentown Morning Call poll released on Monday had Casey up 41 percent to 39 percent.
“We've been getting our name out there,” Smith said. “Not being a politician, I had to get my name known. Even in the primary, it was a task to get my name out there.”
Smith, a farmer and coal-company executive from western Pennsylvania, won in a crowded five-way primary in April after spending millions on advertising. His general-election campaign coffers are flush with cash, largely thanks to personal money—in the third quarter he loaned himself $10 million, according to Federal Election Commission documents.
That has put Smith ahead of Casey in the money chase. He raised $1.6 million in the third quarter and has $7 million cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission data. Casey raised just $1.5 million in the third quarter and has only $5.2 million on hand, according to his campaign.
Race watchers now expect Casey to be more visible on the trail.
“For someone as well-established and well-known in Pennsylvania politics as Bob Casey, he’s been noticeably absent from a lot of the campaign season in the state,” Muhlenberg College pollster Chris Borick said.
Nonetheless, Democrats say Casey has history on his side.
“I don't remember the last time Republicans won Pennsylvania in a presidential year,” said a national Democratic Party official speaking on the condition of anonymity so he could be candid. “When it comes to a presidential year, Pennsylvania votes Democratic.”
The last time Pennsylvania cast its electoral votes for a Republican was 1988.
To that point, Smith argues that the state is “turning pink,” pointing to Republican control of the General Assembly, the governor’s mansion, and the other U.S. Senate seat, held by Pat Toomey.
Casey’s camp says it’s not worried about Smith’s gains, adding that they never expected the senator to remain so far ahead in the polls.
“You put in 15 [million] to 20 million dollars, you're going to move some numbers,” a senior Casey campaign aide said.
When it comes to the substance of the campaign, both camps have gone negative. Smith sponsored a website labeling Casey “Senator Zero,” and asking rhetorically what the senator has done for the Keystone State. The Casey campaign casts Smith as an extreme conservative out of touch with many Pennsylvanians and links him explicitly to the tea party in campaign ads. Smith has spent nearly $1 million more than Casey so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
So far, the candidates have scheduled only one debate, which will air on Oct. 28 on 6ABC in Philadelphia. Smith, who acknowledges that many voters still don’t know him, is making one point clear while campaigning.
“We have a race here in Pennsylvania,” he said.