Is Bob Casey Equipped for a Smith Surge?
Bob Casey’s campaign has had two goals for the past two years: raise money, and define their Republican opponent. Between primary day and today, they’ve done just that.
The freshman Democrat raised over $6.2 million as of the most recent report filed back in July, and he’s been hard at work casting Republican challenger Tom Smith as an out of touch Tea Partier.
But when it comes to one of the nitty gritty aspects of campaigning – get out the vote (GOTV) – team Casey is relying on President Barack Obama’s campaign and the Pa. Democratic Party.
In recent weeks, polls have shown the race becoming closer. Casey lead by an average of 14.5 points according to Real Clear Politics on Sept. 18. Today that lead has been cut nearly in half to 7.5 points according to RCP, and trending smaller. It’s not clear if the race will settle into a steady margin, let alone what that margin might be.
Part of that is a function of name ID. Casey started out with a wide advantage as the incumbent, plus his family is Pa. political royalty. Smith has been catching up, outspending the Senator on television for the past few weeks by a margin of 3 to 1. And while Smith has been on TV in the Philadelphia market, Casey has been dark.
Both sides have said consistently that they expected a closer race, as opposed to the consistent double digit lead Casey enjoyed when he defeated Sen. Rick Santorum in 2006.
The real surprise is that Smith has been able to improve even in the absence of a concerted effort by Mitt Romney’s campaign to win Pa. Observers of the race including PoliticsPA predicted at the outset that Casey – who is more appealing to conservative voters than Obama – would run ahead of the President. Now, that doesn’t seem so sure.
The Pa. Democratic Party is very closely tied to team Casey. They share an office in Philadelphia, where Casey’s campaign is headquartered. Pa. Democratic Party trackers – not Casey campaign staff – film Smith at public events. The party’s Executive Director, Kevin Washo, is a former Casey staffer.
He said the party’s get out the vote effort is synchronised top to bottom, Casey included.
“We’re intimately involved in all facets of GOTV for everybody in all races,” Washo said, state level and federal alike. “We’re all rowing in the same direction.”
A Casey campaign spokesman declined to comment on the subject, saying that they did not want to disclose strategic information to Smith.
President Obama’s campaign does not comment on internal strategy.
Smith ran against the Republican party’s endorsed candidate for the nomination, so by necessity he had an independent grassroots organization. Now, his campaign works in tandem with the Romney team as well as the Pa. Republican Party. They share volunteers, and data, and coordinate on canvassing and phone banking, said Campaign Manager Jim Conroy.
But Smith also maintains a distinct presence on the ground. His campaign has 7 staffers charged with getting out the vote (4 directly, others through coalition activities). Casey has zero, according to several Democratic sources who spoke with PoliticsPA.
Does it matter? Only if Smith makes it very close. Generally, field activities make a difference on the margins, in races that poll within 4 points or fewer.
If the U.S. Senate race does come down to field in the final month of the campaign, it would be both difficult and urgent for Casey to direct last minute party resources to his areas of strength.
Obama’s campaign has about 50 offices spread around the state. However, the centerpiece to the President’s field strategy in Pa. is high turnout in Philadelphia.
That was the strategy behind Ed Rendell’s gubernatorial re-elect in 2006, too. The former Philly Mayor outpaced Casey by about 26,000 votes, around 7 percent of the Senator’s vote total in the City. Turnout in the Governor’s election was 1 percent higher than the U.S. Senate contest despite the race being lower on the ballot.
In other parts of the state, Casey’s piggyback approach has advantages. Rep. Mark Critz and his allies in western Pa. labor unions demonstrated during the primary that they can get blue collar Democrats to the polls, so Casey can count on benefiting from their efforts.
Casey unquestionably is still the favorite in the race, but he has reiterated time and again that he takes the race seriously. Take his half-a-dozen recent fundraising emails.
“My opponent has pledged to spend $20 million of his own fortune to win this fall – and he’s already funded his campaign to the tune of at least $7 million worth of false ads attacking my record,” he wrote.
“With Tom Smith readying his checkbook to fund a barrage of false attacks to distract from his Tea Party record, it’s going to take a massive pouring of support to ensure Bob gets his message out to Pennsylvanian voters,” wrote his Campaign Manager.
Smith is a former coal company owner and is very wealthy. He’s funded the bulk of his campaign thus far, probably in the range of $10 million to date. That will be apparent on the release of his 3rd quarter fundraising report no later than Oct. 15. An additional $10 million more for the final month.
The downside to being a strong favorite, as he has been the entire race, is that national donors and PACs are spending their resources boosting other Democrats in the country.
If the race gets close, down to a few thousand votes, Casey could enter the home stretch without a mechanism in place to control his destiny.
Update: Ana Puig, the Pa. Director of FreedomWorks, noted that her organization has also been actively engaged in the grassroots effort for Smith.
FreedomWorks and its Tea Party-affiliated PAC have spent about $200,000 on Smith’s behalf so far.