The latest poll in the Pennsylvania Senate race is the sort of result that makes political observers sit up and take notice. The Rasmussen poll of likely voters shows incumbent Senator Bob Casey, Jr. leading Republican challenger Tom Smith by just one percentage point. The 46-45 percent margin is shocking because this is a race that virtually no one in either party thought would be competitive, let alone be in doubt this late in the campaign. However, it also shows that Democratic confidence about Pennsylvania being a reliably blue state may have been overstated all along.
The smart money is still on Casey to pull out a win, as well as on President Obama to take Pennsylvania without that much trouble. But both Casey and Obama have seen their leads shrink dramatically in the Keystone State in the last month. Though no Republican has carried Pennsylvania in a presidential election since 1988, it should be remembered that the GOP won both the governorship and a Senate seat (Pat Toomey) in 2010. Yet while Obama has maintained a consistent, albeit decreasing lead, in Pennsylvania, Casey may actually be in more trouble than his backers are willing to admit. His problems are due in part to growing Republican enthusiasm as Mitt Romney gained momentum this month. But Casey’s own shortcomings as a candidate are the major reason he finds Smith snapping at heels. If he can’t right himself, there is a chance the GOP will make up for unexpected losses elsewhere and steal a seemingly safe blue Senate seat.
Democrats have long pooh-poohed the idea that President Obama was in any trouble in Pennsylvania this year. The president romped in Pennsylvania four years ago, and the Democrats’ registration advantage seemed likely to offset any problems that might arise from a new voter ID law that (at least before a judge prevented its enforcement this year) threatened to make it a little more difficult for the party’s Philadelphia machine to observe a time-honored city tradition and cook the results. But it’s starting to look as if their confidence was misplaced. Despite the fact that the most recent state polls there were published last week, before the first presidential debate that has altered the dynamic of the race in Mitt Romney’s favor, both Siena and Susquehanna showed the president holding only a slim lead of either two or three points. That sets up Keystone Democrats for a rude awakening the next time the state is polled, though they got a foretaste of what that might mean with the publication of the latest poll in the state’s U.S. Senate race.
A Susquehanna poll published today shows incumbent Democrat Bob Casey just two points ahead of Republican Tom Smith. Casey is a popular, though lackluster, incumbent whose father (a longtime governor) is still remembered with affection, and no one believed he was in any danger of losing this year. That was certainly the case when the best the GOP could do to oppose him was Tom Smith, a Tea Party stalwart with little name recognition. The point here is that if Tom Smith is that close to Casey, the Democrat ticket in Pennsylvania may be far weaker than pundits, who have been painting the state dark blue in electoral map for months, thought. If Obama must fight hard for Pennsylvania — which has just been shifted into the tossup column by Real Clear Politics — his campaign has made a terrible miscalculation.
Because the Republican Party will nominate the one candidate who, at least at the outset of the contest, Tea Partiers seemed to have the least affinity for, many political observers have concluded that the movement’s time has come and gone. But as the results from a number of Senate races testify, reports of the Tea Party’s demise are, at best, premature. In Utah, longtime incumbent Senator Orrin Hatch is being forced into a Republican primary to hold on to his seat. But an even better argument for the group as a force that should be reckoned with came in Pennsylvania, where the state GOP establishment’s choice was humiliated in a primary yesterday to determine the party’s nominee to oppose Senator Bob Casey.
While the Pennsylvania GOP Senate race received minimal attention even in the Keystone state, the collapse of Governor Tom Corbett’s attempt to handpick an unknown for the nomination is noteworthy. Corbett and the state party wanted Steve Welch, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who was a registered Democrat as recently as 2009. But Tea Party activists embraced Tom Smith, a coal millionaire from the Western region of the state. Though Smith, 64, was a lifelong Democrat, he was able to harness the anger of the party’s grass roots and won by a huge margin over Welch, and Sam Rohrer, a state representative who also sought to appeal to Tea Partiers.