Which came first? The underdog candidate who took the race by storm, or the allied groups who swooped in with reinforcements?
A good venue to examine to the question is the Massachusetts Senate race, where neither has arrived.
For months, Republican Gabriel Gomez has been trying to break through in the deep blue state. He's been compared to Scott Brown, who defied the odds in 2010 by winning a Senate seat that seemed nearly impossible to pry from Democratic hands. And his unique profile (Gomez is a Hispanic former Navy SEAL who has never run for office) seems tailor-made for a political campaign.
But Gomez has received relatively scant help from allied outside groups and donors, even as his opponent has enjoyed an abundance of reinforcements. That reality suggests that neither Gomez's campaign nor the electoral environment have inspired influential third-party GOP players to roll the dice in the Bay State.
And therein lies the chicken-and-egg dilemma.
Gomez has been trying to prove he's worth the outside investment that could infuse his underdog bid with serious momentum. Meanwhile, outside groups and donors have been watching to see whether Gomez picks up enough momentum to merit making an investment.
Welcome to the political gray area, in which both sides can credibly make the argument that the other needs to do more.
While Gomez hasn't taken the race by storm the way Brown did (something we've argued was a nearly impossible expectation considering the confluence of factors working in Brown's favor), he's hung around. A poll released eight days ago showed Gomez within striking distance of Rep. Ed Markey, the steady, if not terribly captivating Democratic nominee.
"The @WSJ reporting @GomezForMA in striking distance. Will Center/Right donors wake up in time to make it happen?" tweeted Gomez campaign consultant Brad Todd earlier this month.
On the one hand, Gomez has a case to make that with more help, he could have tightened the gap some more.
But on the other, it's still Massachusetts, where winning a Senate race is a very tall task for the GOP. (Would Brown's win seem so remarkable if it weren't?) And GOP donors have just come off a disappointing cycle in which Senate recruits came up short across the map, even in very red states.
In other words, GOP groups and donors who've considered sending resources into Massachusetts have also had to weigh the perils of coming up short and being exposed to charges that they wasted money.
Viewed through that lens, it's not surprising then that GOP-aligned national super PACs and nonprofits that often play in Senate races-- like Crossroads-- have declined to spend money, a pro-Gomez super PAC has raised little money, and Markey's allies are outspending the Republican's backers.
The most recent poll was released Sunday, and the survey showed Markey up 11, suggesting the gap is widening, not tightening, as the Democrat's allies have bludgeoned Gomez with negative ads.
Time is running out. Gomez has one debate left Tuesday night to turn the tide. Beyond that, there are no obvious opportunities to move the needle.
And making matters more difficult for Gomez, spending from Senate Majority PAC, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Markey (who outspent Gomez by $4 million during the latest period) is expected to outpace that of Gomez, the pro-Gomez Americans for Progressive Action, and the state party (through which the National Republican Senatorial Committee has not denied funneling money) during the final week of the race.
All of which is to suggest Gomez 's chances of an upset are looking less and less likely.
Did Gomez need to do more over the past couple of months to prove he was worthy of reinforcements? Maybe. Would a boost from outside groups a couple of weeks back given him a real chance of winning with a week to go in the campaign? It's possible.
What clear though is that if Gomez loses, there are going to be a lot of "what-if" questions tossed around on the GOP side. And the answers will depend on who you ask.